Rep. Grace Meng, the establishment Democrat running for her fifth term, endorsed her freshman colleague Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her reelection bid for the district covering western Queens and eastern Bronx. “One of the first town halls we held in relation to the coronavirus in Queens – she and I set that town hall up with all our relevant hospitals. And that was way in the beginning,” Meng said in an interview on City Watch, a news show on the leftist radio station WBAI. “She’s been on most if not all of the calls we’ve had. We’ve had a lot of New York delegation calls.”
Their paths to Capitol Hill couldn’t be more different. Meng won her seat in 2012 with support of the county Democratic organization following two terms in the State Assembly. In contrast, Ocasio-Cortez ran a grassroots campaign that resonated nationally, resulting in her upset win over incumbent Joe Crowley. Her social media presence and support of progressive candidates across the country inspired one local young Democrat to say that she defeated a political machine and then built her own.
Beyond these superficial differences, Meng and AOC have more in common on economic matters. Earlier this month, they teamed up in a letter calling for a federal rent forgiveness program in light of the economic distress resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. The letter also noted that small private landlords, public housing authorities, nonprofit organizations, or housing cooperatives also need financial assistance at this time.
Both Congresswomen are facing opponents in their reelections. AOC’s leading opponent, former cable news host Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, is a former Republican and supporter of the canceled deal to bring the Amazon headquarters to Queens. Meng is facing a primary battle against Mel Gagarin and Sandra Choi, who are running on a leftist platform and the argument that Meng is not sufficiently progressive.
For supporters of Israel, AOC has been a visibly hostile lawmaker. She unapologetically spoke of President Donald Trump’s policy of detaining illegal immigrants as “concentration camps,” accused Israel of withholding clean water from Gaza, giving them “no choice but to riot,” and using the “cudgel of anti-Semitism to scare people away” from criticizing “unjust and inhumane policies.”
In contrast, Meng famously defied President Barack Obama by voting against the Iran deal, among other examples of her support for Israel. It is common for incumbents in the same party to endorse each other and present a united front against the other party in the general election. In light of Meng’s public endorsement, it does not appear likely that AOC will lend support to fellow “democratic socialist” Gagarin in the June 23 primary.
The endorsement is recognition of mainstream party acceptance of AOC, but it’s too soon to say if she will return the favor after initially vowing to support leftist insurgents running against centrist incumbents. In recent months, her office experienced a turnover of staff. Those with backgrounds in political activism have been replaced with new staff who have deeper political experience.
By Sergey Kadinsky