Newly-elected New York Mayor and Democratic NY Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) haven’t “talked in years,” and the rift between the two “rising stars” of the Democratic Party appears to be widening.
Shortly after his win in New York City’s Democratic primary for mayor, Eric Adams traveled to Washington, DC, for a customary visit with members of the state’s congressional delegation, where he was met with a pretty cold shoulder by AOC.
Days earlier, Adams warned guests at a fundraiser about the dangers of democratic socialists, who happen to count the second-term congresswoman as their most famous member -which was probably the reason for the snub.
Rep. Nydia Velázquez, a congressional mentor of Ocasio-Cortez’s, sought to clear the air, pleading with Adams to treat “everyone with respect.”
Yet since then, the friction has continued between Adams and AOC, two ascendant political stars and unusually gifted communicators representing sharply divergent wings of the fractured Democratic Party: Adams as an avatar of “pragmatic” moderatism, as he has described his policies, and Ocasio-Cortez as an ardent left-wing warrior.
“They are fundamentally arguing from the two sides of the Democratic Party,” said Jeffrey Pollock, a veteran Democratic strategist, adding, “And therefore, they are bound to be in conflict.”
Despite their prominence and proximity, Ocasio-Cortez and Adams have had no public events together and have not spoken one-on-one since the July meeting, according to representatives from both camps.
And when they do speak of each other, it is usually to trade barbs and brickbats on issues weighty, and less so. In September, for example, Adams questioned Ocasio-Cortez’s provocative “Tax the Rich” dress at last fall’s Met Gala. (Adams mimicked the move recently with a tuxedo emblazoned with the message “End Gun Violence.”)
The unease between Adams and Ocasio-Cortez is not as pronounced or as damaging as past feuds in New York politics, such as the prolonged, internecine battle between former Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Nor is the lack of relationship completely surprising, considering the disparate demands of each official, one a congresswoman focused on pushing a progressive-left platform to a more centrist Democrat-led House, and the other a mayor who fancies himself a “buck-stops-here” executive.
The growing enmity between the two is troubling for some Democrats who believe that the appearance of party unity is crucial to staving off serious electoral losses in this year’s midterms and beyond.
Political observers say the schism between the two seems to be underlaid by a complicated mix of personal disdain and policy differences. But there is also a dash of political calculation. In reality, the two have an almost symbiotic relationship, with each finding a useful foil in their own backyard — someone on whom to focus their fire and to use to polish their own brand.
Adams and Ocasio-Cortez are essentially playing to different crowds, said Peter Ragone, a former aide to Bill de Blasio.
“The truth is, Adams won without them,” Ragone said of the college-educated liberals who adore Ocasio-Cortez. “And if he’s going to expand his base beyond working-class African American and Latino, it’s not going to be with progressives.”
Many mainstream Democratic leaders blamed progressive leaders and ideas such as “defund the police,” as well as rising crime, for the party’s poor showing in the 2021 election cycle, including losses in moderate areas such as Long Island, where the state’s bail reform laws turned off swing voters.
Indeed, there is no issue more contentious between the mayor and AOC than policing, gun violence, and law enforcement.
Late last month, Adams called for an increase in the police budget during his State of the City address and agreed to hire nearly 600 new correction officers.
Even before that announcement, however, AOC had already rejected many of Adams’ early ideas — including his approach to policing and austerity measures that he announced back in February.
There is no question Adams has felt pestered by liberals such as Ocasio-Cortez and her “Squad,” as well as their socialist partners in Albany, such as state Sen. Jabari Brisport of Brooklyn, who says Adams is merely “repackaging Republican talking points and ideology for a Democratic audience.”
“It’s definitely not a progressive agenda,” Brisport said. “It’s the Mayor Adams agenda.”
However, Adams’ supporters counter, saying that despite his aggressive stance on law enforcement issues, he has much in common with the progressive wing of the party, noting planned investments in public housing, childcare, and mental health services.
They also note that Adams just won an election and therefore has a mandate to lead as he sees fit.
Evan Thies, an adviser to Adams, said that “it’s important to recognize that the mayor and many of those who are critical of him from the far left started in the same place” — as working-class New Yorkers, often from “underserved communities” — and want the same things, including equality, affordability and “a higher quality of life.”
“So his message to them is: We are prioritizing the same people,” Thies said. “Let’s start there and then talk short-term and long-term solutions.”
But even if AOC and Adams can work together on occasion, as they have on COVID-19 and improving the subways – their squabbles may hint at larger issues for Democrats, especially come the critical midterm elections.