On a warm Sunday evening in Queens, New York, Joe Crowley stood before a group of about two dozen Democratic activists and made his case for why he should be returned to Congress for a 10th term. {snip}

{snip} Crowley {snip} was born to a family of Irish immigrants — the son of a police officer. Crowley is routinely floated as next in line to be the leader of the House Democrats if Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California steps aside or is ousted. {snip}

To meet with that destiny, however, he has an obstacle to overcome: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — a Bronx-born millennial whose scrappy challenge from the left has generated excitement nationally and around the district, which encompasses parts of Queens and the Bronx.

If Crowley positions himself as a photo negative of the president, Ocasio-Cortez is a different medium altogether. A 28-year-old woman and daughter to a Puerto Rican mother and Bronx father, Ocasio-Cortez’s most notable novelty is arguably not her demographic profile, but her policy profile. She calls for the abolition of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Medicare for All, tuition-free public college, a federal jobs guarantee, and criminal justice reform “now.” {snip}

Crowley, though, when he talked about the campaign, shared his frustration over what he perceives to be an inordinate focus on ethnicity.

His opponent, he said, was trying to make the campaign “about race” — a strategy he called “unnecessarily divisive” at a time when the party needed to be “fighting Republicans, not other Democrats,” according to two people at the gathering.

“I can’t help that I was born white,” Crowley said. {snip}

{snip}

The Crowley campaign connected The Intercept with the host of the event, Aujla, to refute the claims being made, but Aujla said that while he didn’t hear Crowley opine on the political implications of his whiteness that evening, he had heard him make a version of that remark before. “I don’t remember him saying that directly, but I have heard him say at other places, ‘I can’t help the color of my skin or anything like that, but I am very diverse, I support very diverse people,’ or something to that extent,” said Aujla, adding that he was not offended by anything Crowley said that evening.

{snip}

City councilman Costa Constantinides said that {snip} he didn’t recall Crowley making any comments about his own race being a hinderance in the campaign. Constantinides explained that he wasn’t paying close attention to Crowley’s talk, that he was mostly chatting with constituents and eating baklava during the remarks. “I remember him saying he’s not running against Alexandria, but he’s running against a president that is wrong,” he said.

{snip} (Ocasio-Cortez is a former organizer for Bernie Sanders’s 2016 campaign and has been endorsed by Sanders-affiliated groups Our Revolution and People for Bernie Sanders, as well as the Democratic Socialists of America.)

{snip}

Crowley graduated from Queens College in 1985 while his uncle, Walter Crowley, was serving as a city councilor — a seat he had inherited from then-Queens party boss Tom Manton. Walter Crowley died in 1985, and according to subsequent New York Times reporting, Joe Crowley “set his eyes” on the seat, but was thwarted. “[W]hen Assemblyman Ralph Goldstein died in 1986, Mr. Crowley decided to run in the Democratic primary to succeed him. It was a crowded race with seven candidates. Mr. Crowley, then 24, won that race decisively,” the Times reported.

Crowley fended off a primary challenger in 1988, winning comfortably.

In 1999, when Manton, by then a member of Congress, retired, Crowley {snip} was effectively appointed to Congress by the party boss. Crowley also inherited Manton’s role as the new “king of Queens,” and has run the district machine since then. He had to defend his seat against primary challengers in 2002 and 2004 and each time won comfortably.

Despite having been in elected office for more than 30 years, Crowley has faced just four primary contests, and won them all comfortably. He has not faced a challenger since 2004.

His seat is now being challenged by Ocasio-Cortez, who’s running with a grassroots army, national attention, and a popular campaign ad that celebrates her independence from the Queens machine — her freedom to mount a direct challenge to the throne.

The irony that Crowley laments how he “can’t help” being white, while ignoring the political advantages he inherited, is not lost on Ocasio-Cortez. “The congressman could have helped that he accepted inheritance of his seat from a multigenerational political dynasty without a true primary — a process by which people of color are historically locked out of representation. The congressman could help that he voted to establish ICE. The congressman can help the fact that he accepts money from developers that are displacing our communities and the folks criminalizing our backyards,” she told The Intercept.

“Additionally, why is it that the congressman can proudly discuss his Irish heritage on the campaign trail, but I am somehow barred from mentioning my Puerto Rican family?”

{snip}

When Joe discusses his race, he acknowledges that he has an extraordinary responsibility to use his platform to do good on behalf of others. This is why Joe has spent his entire life standing up to bullies who discriminate against others based on their background, religion, race, orientation, or gender.

{snip}

Haby [Nick Haby, a Democratic actiist] is a board member of the Lesbian & Gay Democratic Club of Queens and a member of Stonewall Democrats. He’s also the chair of the marketing and social media committee for the Powhatan and Pocahontas Regular Democratic Club.

The LGDCQ later endorsed Crowley, though Ocasio-Cortez did not compete for their backing. She assumed that, as part of the Queens political establishment, the club would never endorse anyone but Crowley, and her campaign decided to invest its limited resources into competing for votes it felt were more winnable. She says that decision was made early on. “At my first attempt to meet a local Dem club, they heard I was coming and rushed to endorse Crowley before I arrived. It’s never been our strategy to court a system led by Crowley,” she said.

{snip}

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