Ocasio-Cortez endorses Maloney primary challenger

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday endorsed progressive New York state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D) in her primary bid seeking to unseat Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) in a controversial House district created by New York’s redistricting maps.

Ocasio-Cortez and Biaggi both upset powerful moderate incumbents in their 2018 races, with Biaggi unseating a Democratic state senator who had formed a coalition with Republicans to give them the majority in the chamber.

“Through hard work, Alessandra was able to break through and deliver a series of progressive wins for New York State,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement. “Now, she’s ready to take her leadership to Congress where I know she’ll continue fighting for working people.” 

Ocasio-Cortez had arrived in Congress after winning a primary challenge of her own, unseating Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), the then-chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement marks a sharp rebuke against Maloney, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). Maloney drew criticism from fellow Democrats when he announced last month he would run in New York’s 17th Congressional District shortly after the new map was announced. 

Maloney lives in the new district currently mostly represented by Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.). Maloney avoided a potentially awkward member-on-member primary when Jones subsequently announced he would run in a separate district.

Ocasio-Cortez had previously called on Maloney to step aside from the DCCC if he followed through on mounting a primary challenge against another Democratic incumbent, arguing it would constitute a conflict of interest.

“I respect Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and have worked with her on a number of policy matters, including as a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal,” Maloney said in an email to The Hill.

“But, on her endorsement, we are going to have to agree to disagree,” he said. “This election comes down to voters in NY-17, and I am honored to have received overwhelming support locally, including endorsements from nearly 40 elected leaders and Democratic Party committees.”

A recent internal poll conducted by Global Strategy Group on behalf of the Maloney campaign, which was shared with The Hill, reported a 30-point lead for Maloney in the race among likely Democratic primary voters in the district. 

The poll also indicated Maloney maintained a 23-point lead after respondents heard balanced, positive messages about both candidates. Seventy-six percent of voters were not familiar with Biaggi or could not rate her, compared to 41 percent when asked about Maloney.

“We want a champion in Congress that will fight for all of us — not a corporate Democrat like Sean Patrick Maloney who puts his donors’ interests ahead of ours,” Biaggi said in a statement. “Representative Ocasio-Cortez and I know our party will be strongest when Democrats stop letting corporate donors set the political agenda and start fighting for working people — and that’s why I am thrilled she is backing our campaign.”

New York’s congressional redistricting, finalized when a state court approved new maps that were drawn by a third party, has caused a shake-up for Democrats in this year’s midterms. The new maps pit incumbents against one another in several races.

The maps placed Maloney’s residence in the 17th District, where he is now running, but moved Jones’ home to the 16th, which is currently represented by Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), another liberal, Black first-term lawmaker.  

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), who both chair House committees and have served together in Congress for roughly 30 years, were both lumped into the 12th Congressional District. Nadler has said he attempted to convince Maloney to run in a separate district but she refused to do so.