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BU Alumna Wins Upset Congressional Primary in New York City

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (CAS’11) now in the national spotlight

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Four months before her BU graduation, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke at the University’s Martin Luther King Day commemoration about her generation, addressing the topic, “How can we be great?”

She put a down payment on that hope yesterday. The 28-year-old first-time candidate toppled a US House speaker-in-waiting twice her age in New York’s primary election.

Ocasio-Cortez (CAS’11) is almost certain to win the seat this November in the heavily Democratic 14th District after defeating Rep. Joseph Crowley. The district straddles the Bronx and Queens.

“What I see is that the Democratic Party takes working-class communities for granted, they take people of color for granted, and they just assume that we’re going to turn out no matter how bland or half-stepping these proposals are,” Ocasio-Cortez, who was an organizer for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, told the New York Times before the primary.

Political reporters struggled to find words to capture the measure of Ocasio-Cortez’s achievement. “She is likely to be in headlines for years to come,” the Times summed up, describing the outcome as “the most significant loss for a Democratic incumbent in more than a decade, and one that will reverberate across the party and the country.”

“A breakthrough for the left wing of the Democratic Party, in a primary season where they haven’t been able to cause too many headaches for the establishment,” National Public Radio reported.

Crowley, considered a possible speaker if Democrats take the House in November, hadn’t faced a primary opponent in 14 years—“when the woman who beat him Tuesday was just a teenager,” the Associated Press noted.

Kenneth Elmore (Wheelock’87), associate provost and dean of students, recalls meeting Ocasio-Cortez—“I knew her as Sandy”—when another student brought her to one of his weekly Coffee & Conversation forums. She was studying international relations at what is now the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies.

“Sandy’s friend introduced her as ‘the smartest person I know,’” Elmore says. “Through frequent conversations with her, it didn’t take long for me to agree.

“Sandy is brilliant—she is boldly curious and always present,” he says. “She makes me think and could always see multiple sides of any issue. Sandy is also heart and soul real. It is wonderful to see Sandy emerge as a leader—I can’t wait to see what happens when her time truly comes.”

The friend who introduced them, Mina Vahedi (Wheelock’11,’14), says she mentioned Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign to her political junkie cousin last summer, who replied, “She has no chance at all.”

But Vahedi, who lived on Ocasio-Cortez’s dorm floor freshman year (“Warren Towers, 16B”), was not surprised by the political upset. “She just has this energy that’s so motivated and ready just to work and make things happen,” Vahedi says. She recalls walking through the George Sherman Union with Ocasio-Cortez and joking with her about “when you’re president one day.”

“She didn’t make it seem like it was totally out of the question,” says Vahedi, who says she burst into tears of happiness when a Buzzfeed news alert announcing her friend’s victory crossed her phone Tuesday night while she was at a concert.

Raul Fernandez (COM’00, Wheelock’16), a Wheelock College of Education & Human Development lecturer, says that “while the political world is in shock, those of us who know Sandy best are beaming with pride, but unsurprised.” Her student years, he says, revealed a “rare combination of heart, smarts, and the ability to use her voice to bring people together,” along with an uncommon trait: “She listens—I mean, actually listens—when you speak.”

For example, she held back during Elmore’s weekly forums to hear others speak before sharing her views, Fernandez remembers.

The ultimate tribute may have come from her vanquished opponent. Knowing he was beaten, Crowley, a guitarist, strummed “Born to Run” and dedicated it to her.

18 Comments
Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

18 Comments on BU Alumna Wins Upset Congressional Primary in New York City

  • Alexandra on 06.27.2018 at 4:01 pm

    I have been following her campaign, and I am so proud of Alexandria! BX stand up!

  • Bruce on 06.28.2018 at 5:22 am

    Way to go! We are so proud.

  • Michael on 06.28.2018 at 6:30 am

    The incumbent she ran against went unchallenged for 14 years, I’m sure he forgot how to campaign a long time ago. I’m all about fresh blood when it comes to political offices but she’s a Bernie Sanders socialist. I’m sure she has lot’s of great ideas and no clue how to pay for them just like Bernie. Of course you can always raise taxes on one of the heaviest taxed states and then the government can just be really inefficient at redistributing that money. Good luck.

    • Not Michael on 06.28.2018 at 10:34 am

      And good luck to you, too, Michael…

  • Margo Miller on 06.28.2018 at 7:27 am

    Fantastic step in the right direction. BTW, AOC is going to be on Colbert tonight — should be good.

  • Richard on 06.28.2018 at 9:23 am

    A breath of fresh air in these stifling times.

  • Claudia on 06.28.2018 at 9:33 am

    This article fails to mention that AOC is a proud member of Democratic Socialists of America. Boston University got a YDSA (Young Democratic Socialist of America) chapter last year! Check out their good work if you share similar values to AOC and want to get involved on campus https://www.facebook.com/YDSABU/

  • Greg on 06.28.2018 at 10:03 am

    Best advice anyone could give this young woman at this point would be to take it all a little slowly, lest she appear a total lightweight/chum in the waters of the cesspool/snakepit that it DC … she should strongly consider staying away from The Colbert Show, CNN and even the digital/print media until she doesn’t appear as a deer in the headlights – get comfortable with the result first; her win is seismic within the establishment democratic party and MANY aren’t happy for her as the new kid on the block in spite of what’s been written/spoken as to her new ‘fresh face’ (Pelosi gave a quick backhand to the reporter who raised a question of what her win meant to the D party and Nancy’s role as leader), and republicans will be quick to pick her apart as a disciple of ‘Crazy Bernie’, the democratic socialist who’s ideas will never be able to work in a capitalistic society … she should also back away from broad ‘policy ideals’ – especially ‘impeachment’ as those words will be used to pummel her in the days ahead … remind her that her win really IS a Big Deal, that she truly DOES have a chance to make a difference/be heard, and that her actions genuinely COULD impact the lives of many – but ONLY if she doesn’t flame out quickly, or otherwise be made to appear as a space shot in a place where there are more horses behinds than there are actual horses!

    Just the $.02 of someone who would have NEVER voted for her (based on her socialistic ideologies and complete lack of resume/life achievements),

    A fellow Terrier

    • Richard Chappo on 06.28.2018 at 11:24 am

      Well said Greg

    • Not Greg on 06.28.2018 at 2:08 pm

      Based on this comment, I would have NEVER voted for Greg either, so?

    • Jim on 06.29.2018 at 7:49 am

      I understand why most college kids would be into a “Democratic Socialist” because they’re broke, haven’t had uncle Sam take a huge chunk of their pay when they need to support a family, haven’t felt the full crushing debt of student loans, mortgage, etc… yet and taking from others when you have little to lose seems reasonable. But if you get outside of the liberal BU bubble you’ll discover that this country is vehemently opposed to socialism. There will always be fringe candidates like her and Bernie but try going to the Midwest and selling that socialism crap there or in a national stage it’s simply not going to happen. Once a person starts working and has bills to pay the idea of the government taking more of their money to pass around to others loses it’s appeal real quick.

    • TERRY on 06.29.2018 at 1:31 pm

      Greg is probably too young to realize that New York City had free college for all, when Bernie Sanders was a kid. Everyone could go to school free, and this was known as “opportunity”, and compatible with a capitalist system.

      • josh on 07.02.2018 at 8:37 pm

        That must have been nice, “free” college. One question though, if socialism was supposedly “compatible with capitalism” then where did all the free colleges go? NYC had a major fiscal crisis during the 1970’s where the city was in the brink of going bankrupt because of all that fun socialism that worked so well. The federal government refused to bail out NYC so NYC turned to Wall Street (capitalism) and raised money through selling bonds.

    • Jose Artigas on 07.01.2018 at 12:24 pm

      Yeah, yeah, the voices of reaction will always predictably say that progessives must go slow, get more experience, don’t upset the status quo, etc. Well, right now the status quo stinks, & AOC is just the kind of fresh voice we need to hear loud & clear. Better to have her, & e.g. the wonderful Parkland FL civic activists, in charge than Pres Strumpet’s cesspool currently in DC. The times they are a-changin’!

      • Greg on 07.17.2018 at 4:55 pm

        https://www.google.com/amp/s/nypost.com/2018/07/17/ocasio-cortez-ignites-controversy-with-comments-on-israeli-occupation/amp/

        And, almost to script … our famous ‘Alumnus’ has stepped on a rake with her ‘occupation of Palestine’ comment on ‘firing line’ … she’s now taking a pretty hard pounding for her extraordinarily poor and uninformed showing, will lose some of that ‘new car smell’ with her stupid comments, and more than likely will begin a slow fade away … she now won’t make much of a difference, won’t affect the lives of those she’d hoped to help, and generally be perceived as a lightweight.

        Sorry to be right on this one .. but it was too predictable.

  • An immigrant on 06.28.2018 at 12:52 pm

    So is she a member of the Democratic party or the Democratic Socialists of America? Is there a difference between the two or are they one and the same?

    Her statement that the Democratic Party takes people of color for granted, are my feelings exactly. Beyond that, there is nothing that I would agree with her on. Her candidacy is going to push a lot of moderates and independents to the Republican side.

    • MARY E DAVIS on 06.28.2018 at 10:46 pm

      I am greateful for this “new, fresh” face of the Democratic Socialist Party. Conservatives specifically enjoy this kind of gift.

  • Kris Pikulik on 07.18.2018 at 3:13 pm

    Great to see a BU alum succeeding in the world. Although. She really needs to brush up on foreign relations as she takes interviews on the subject and looks very under educated in her responses. It’s donot n right uncomfortable. Sorry

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