A Tale of Three Campaigns

By Miriam B

You can tell a lot about a campaign and a candidate by the nature of their events: how many volunteers show up, what are the speakers saying, the focus (or lack thereof) on voter turnout. The office openings in May for Julia Salazar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s insurgent campaigns differed sharply from the opening for US Rep. Joe Crowley, boss of the Queens Democratic machine.

Julia Salazar’s office opening in Bushwick launched an issues-based and people-powered campaign to unseat State Senator Martin Malave Dilan in the Democratic primary in September. More than 70 DSA members and friends filed into May Day Space on May 19. They were named to one of 12 teams, trained on canvassing skills, and sent out into the rain to knock on doors. Salazar went out with them. Afterwards, they gathered for a festive backyard BBQ behind the campaign’s new office on Central Avenue.

Because of housing legislation that Dilan voted for, people are being forced out of their homes, and neighborhoods are being torn apart. Non-union developers building in the area donate heavily to Dilan. Salazar is not taking money from developers or other corporations; she’s relying on small donors. As a result, she explained to one voter that afternoon, she can be counted on to strengthen the rent laws when they expire in 2019. The voter nodded in agreement.

Salazar is also fighting for the New York Health Act and to end cash bail and mass incarceration. “A better world is possible,” she declared to volunteers. “It’s on us to win it.”  

Earlier the same day, a smattering of “Women for Joe” volunteers gathered for muffins and coffee in Rep. Crowley’s new Jackson Heights office. Then, the room filled up with elected officials and their staffers. A mostly female lineup of elected officials spoke warmly about Crowley’s defense of abortion rights and Social Security and the need to fight Trump, and Crowley presented himself as the anti-Trump candidate. But as one female district leader smoking outside said about the elected officials , “They had no choice [about showing up]. He’s the Democratic County leader.” This was a command performance.

When it was over, big black SUVs spirited away the elected officials and their staffers, leaving about a dozen volunteers to knock on doors, including several from the National Abortion Rights Action League
(NARAL). The NARAL Political Director said privately that Crowley’s opponent, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is also great; NARAL tends to endorse incumbents who have stood by them.

If Crowley himself went out to campaign, it wasn’t visible. Perhaps he worked the phone. He’s famous for hitting up real estate and Wall Street firms for major donations—the main source of his campaign’s $1.4 million war chest.

Ocasio-Cortez’s office opening in Elmhurst the next week was yet another story. Fifty-plus volunteers enjoyed tacos and guacamole, and then moved outside to rally in a mini park beside the elevated train. On foot and in camp chairs, they cheered lustily as Ocasio-Cortez called, “This won’t be an easy election. There’s only one way to get it done. By rejecting corporate money and getting everyone out to vote.”

“This campaign started in living rooms. In five weeks with five snow storms in March and April, we got more than 5,000 petition signatures” to get on the ballot,  Ocasio-Cortez shouted over the rumble of a passing train. While Crowley got on the ballot with signatures gathered by paid staff, hundreds of volunteers for Ocasio-Cortez gathered in this Bronx/Queens Congressional district, because they want reproductive healthcare within Medicare for All, a federal jobs guarantee at a living wage with childcare, free tuition at public colleges, and abolition of ICE.

There’s still lots of work to do, to get out the vote. “We’ve got to make primary day a party,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “The most joyous day of the year.”

Ocasio-Cortez and Salazar are both DSA members and endorsed by DSA. Primary day for Ocasio-Cortez’s Congressional race is June 26. DSA has been canvassing almost every day in Queens and twice weekly in the Bronx, and phone banking from various locations. Sign up here to help in the final Get Out the Vote effort.

Primary day for Salazar’s State Senate race is September 13, with petition signatures due by July 10. To help, contact the campaign here.