Heated NY Primary Pits Corrupt Establishment Democrat Against Young Democratic Socialist

In the closely watched upcoming primary in New York, democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is challenging neoliberal Joe Crowley, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, who Howie Klein says is “the most corrupt Democrat in the House.”

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Story Transcript

BEN NORTON: It’s The Real News. I’m here with Howie Klein today to discuss one of the most closely watched primary Democratic races going on. And that is in New York. A progressive who’s endorsed by Our Revolution, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is running for the U.S. House to represent the 14th Congressional District in New York, and she’s running against Joe Crowley, who since 2016 has been chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

So Crowley has the fourth-highest rank in Democratic leadership. And this is really an important battle that’s going on between an establishment Democrat and a progressive, a young 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And a new article in The Intercept by the journalist Lee Fang details how Rep. Crowley’s career has coincided with large lobbying contracts for his brother. Crowley has widely been accused of nepotism. So today we’ll be talking about this important primary. I’m joined by Howie Klein, who is an adjunct professor at McGill University in Montreal and serves on the board of People for the American Way. He also blogs at the website Down With Tyranny!, where he’s been writing about this Democratic race. Thanks, thanks for joining us, Howie.

HOWIE KLEIN: Sure, Ben.

BEN NORTON: So can you just talk about what you wrote on your blog? This is an important race going on. What are your thoughts?

HOWIE KLEIN: So I’ve been following Crowley very carefully since 2006, and he’s been accused of many things much more serious than nepotism, including being extremely corrupt. He takes bribes. He’s taken more money from the financial sector than any other Democrat in the House. So that, that is not a coincidence. He was brought up before the House Ethics Committee a few years ago, and he would have probably been recommended to be expelled from the house, but Nancy Pelosi agreed to trade him for four Republicans. So four Republicans that were also facing the Ethics Committee were let go in return for Crowley being let go.

So he literally is the most corrupt Democrat in the House of Representatives. Anyone interested in knowing about that and why and how can go to my blog, DownWithTyranny.com, as you said. And they’ll find more than a decade’s worth of stories about Joe Crowley. He’s extremely dangerous to the, first of all, to the Democratic Party, but also to this country. We already have a corrupt person as president, and we don’t need someone corrupt as the head of the House Democrats. Very, very, very scary to me.

He was the head of the New Dems. And the New Dems are generally thought of as the Republican wing of the Democratic Party. They are owned and operated by Wall Street, and that’s what Crowley is all about. He’s Wall Street’s guy in Congress. And yes, he’s, right now he is the fourth-ranking Democrat behind Pelosi and Hoyer and Clyburn. So that’s number one, two, and three, and then he’s number four. The problem is, is that they have hand-chosen him, hand-selected him, hand-picked him, whatever it is, to be the next speaker once Pelosi steps aside. So you know, you’re not going to find that newspapers, and they don’t admit that. But that is what’s going on behind the scenes in Congress. He’s being supported by all factions.

So even the the Progressive Caucus, who is, who I would think would save us from this monster, even the co-chair of that, Mark Pocan, is whipping progressives for him. And Mark, I know Mark. He’s a good guy. He wouldn’t lie. But he’s not telling the, he’s not telling the progressives the whole story. He’s just saying, oh look, he’s, you know, he’s, he’s changed his ways. He’s, he’s voting for all these nice progressive things. But the truth of this is, is he has been close to being a Republican for his whole time in Congress, and now that he wants to become the speaker he’s, he’s making some nods that go way against what he has spent his whole life doing so that progressives can get behind him.

And when I speak to progressives they tell me, well, Pocan told us this, and Pocan told us that. But what he did is not tell them the whole story. So what he says is true, that this is what he’s doing this year, oh yes, it is. But what has he been doing for his whole career? And one of them, Ro Khanna from California wound up based on that endorsing him. And then when Ro Khanna did a little bit more research, he decided to endorse Alexandria Ocasio, the progressive who lives in that district.

Now, the district is an interesting district. It’s New York’s 14th Congressional District. It’s a northern part of Queens and then a southeastern part of the Bronx. In fact, Crowley is the machine boss of Queens, and he is, he has moved in the past to get, to drop the Bronx part of the district, to get rid of it. So it would just be a Queens district, which he can control more easily. But the courts told him to go away, it doesn’t make any sense and they wouldn’t let him do it. And now it wouldn’t really matter, because the whole district has changed drastically since he was first given the seat. It was at one time, it was a fairly white district that fit his personality and himself. And now it is only 19 percent of the people there or 18 percent of the people there are white, and the rest of the people who live in the district are people of color.

And he doesn’t live in the district he and his family live or, live in Virginia. They have virtually nothing to do with the district. But it’s the district that was given to him. He was a state legislator and then when the the boss of Queens who had that district, a guy named Tom Manton, when he decided to retire, literally on the day of his retirement they announced that he was leaving Congress, and that Crowley was going to be the new congressperson. He’s never fought a race. He doesn’t know, even know how to fight a race. He’s never done it. So it, this is just a, it’s catastrophic for the Democratic Party to be saddled with this guy, and I’m afraid same for the country. I just think it’s the worst thing that can happen. But we don’t get votes. The vote is done only by members of Congress. They’re the only ones that vote. None of us do. The only thing that we can possibly do is to elect Alexandria Ocasio to be the, to be the congresswoman.

BEN NORTON: Yeah, let’s, let’s talk more about that for a second here. It’s Friday right now, June 15. And tonight there will be a debate between Crowley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, so we will look forward to that, and we’ll get your response after that debate. But I imagine there will be quite a few disagreements, considering, as I mentioned earlier, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is very progressive. She’s a self-declared democratic socialist. She’s running on a socialist platform, calling for universal health care, expanded social spending, and fighting corruption and getting money out of politics, refusing to take money from Wall Street and other financial institutions. So can you talk about the differences in policy that we see here, and the differences in politics between this new young politician, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is backed by Our Revolution and, as you mentioned, this corrupt old establishment Democrat?

HOWIE KLEIN: Yes. So the PAC that I run, the Blue America PAC, also endorsed her some time ago. And she, she’s more like what you would call a, a democratic socialist than an actual socialist. I mean, she’s a socialist the way Bernie is a socialist. She’s a Democrat who embraces some, some ideas like Bernie does. She was, she was, in fact, someone who was fighting for Bernie when when he ran for president. So you know, and Crowley is just an establishment Democrat who just goes along with what the party does. At one time he was sort of to the right of that. Like I said, he was a New Dem, so more like a Wall Street Democrat, a corporate Democrat, where she is, you know, as you just said, she is someone who backs Medicare for All. She is someone who backs the idea of public universities being free.

So, so that’s an important thing that a lot of people don’t understand. When I went to college, that’s what it was. Public universities, which are paid for by the taxpayers, were free. And slowly over time they became institutions that people can’t afford. And that’s, that’s, that was a big mistake. And Alexandria wants to go back to what it was, and what it was meant to be when taxpayers were asked to pay for them. And when, I mean, when my parents paid their taxes they were, they were paying some of those taxes to build a state university system. And the idea of that was that they were going to be free. And they were free. And then slowly, slowly, slowly, the Crowleys of the world started putting, you know, making it more and more expensive until, as I said, now you can’t even afford them anymore.

So these are the kinds of ideas that democratic socialists are behind, like Bernie and like Crowley. Sorry, not Crowley. Like Bernie, and like Alexandria.

BEN NORTON: Ocasio-Cortez, yeah. Then finally, concluding here, this is one race of many going on throughout the country. We’ve seen a few primaries recently, including in California and some other states. Can you talk about the larger wave of progressives who are trying to fight against some of these corporate Wall Street-backed Democrats, these establishment Democrats, and what you think about, about this ongoing struggle?

HOWIE KLEIN: Yeah. Well, Ben, I wish I could say that this is what’s happening everywhere in the country, but it’s sort of, it’s not. There are individual races where it’s happening. You said California. And in California another, not Blue Dogs, they, they don’t, they don’t do anything here. But we have, we have New Dems. So it’s, a New Dem isn’t quite a Blue Dog, they are sort of in the same ballpark. But we had a New Dem named Dave Min, who used to work for Schumer, sort of bringing money in from Wall Street for Schumer. And then he was running with lots of lots of money against a woman who is much more progressive than him named Katie Porter, and Katie just beat him about a week and a half ago, with the help of Elizabeth Warren.

So, so that’s a good thing. And something similar happened in Omaha, Nebraska, where Kara Eastman, who’s an incredible, wonderful progressive, beat a blue dog named Brad Ashford who the party was endorsing. But for every one-. And there were other races where that’s been happening, as well. But it’s very, very tough. These progressives are underfunded, and sometimes the magic gets worked, and sometimes it doesn’t work. And so, but I don’t know what the percentages, but there are Blue Dogs and New Dems who are winning and there are Blue Dogs and New Dems who are losing to progressives. So it’s, both things are happening. I wish it was a wave for our side, but it isn’t.

BEN NORTON: Well, we’ll have to end our conversation there. We were joined by Howie Klein, who serves on the board of People for the American Way. He also blogs at the website Down With Tyranny!. You are watching The Real News Network.