Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Monday that stops on her “listening tour” throughout the district, like the one held a day earlier in Corona, are “intended for lively, compassionate discourse with a diversity of viewpoints.”
According to the Democratic nominee in the 14th Congressional District, she and the dozens of area residents who attended the event “talked about race, immigration, healthcare, disability rights and housing.”
But unless you were in the room on Sunday, you won’t know what specific community problems were mentioned or how Ocasio-Cortez planned to address them once she is sworn in.
That’s because her campaign banned members of the media from attending the event, which was otherwise open to the public.
In the seven weeks since she pulled off one of the most remarkable upsets in recent American political history — defeating longtime Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx) by 15 points in June’s Democratic primary — Ocasio-Cortez has become a political star.
Soon after her victory came numerous profiles in high-profile publications like The New York Times and Rolling Stone, guest hosting shows on the online progressive news network The Young Turks and appearing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
She has also traveled the country from Kansas to Hawaii in recent weeks to campaign — sometimes with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — for fellow progressive candidates running in their own primaries.
But when Ocasio-Cortez returned to the district for a Bronx community meeting with prominent healthcare activist Ady Barkan last Tuesday, her campaign manager, Vigie Ramos Rios, later told the Chronicle, she was “mobbed” by reporters, “even though we said no Q&A and no one-on-one [interviews].”
According to Ramos Rios and campaign spokesman Corbin Trent, that unwanted attention led to a press ban both for last Wednesday’s listening tour stop in the Bronx and Sunday’s in Corona.
“We wanted to help create a space where community members felt comfortable and open to express themselves without the distraction of cameras and press. These were the first set of events where the press has been excluded,” Trent said. “This is an outlier and will not be the norm. We’re still adjusting our logistics to fit Alexandria’s national profile.”
The 28-year-old progressive activist will almost certainly win November’s general election against her nominal Republican opponent in the overwhelmingly Democratic district, which would make her the youngest-ever female member of Congress.
Asked if it was hypocritical for Ocasio-Cortez to ban the press from an in-district community meeting after weeks of interviews with prominent publications and rallying with candidates in other states, Trent said the campaign is committed to maintaining a positive relationship with area media outlets.
“After our primary victory, the campaign had what we saw as a unique and limited opportunity for Alexandria to use her elevated platform to speak about issues affecting our district to the national media, and to campaign for other progressive candidates around the country,” he said. “By working to get other progressive candidates elected, Alexandria will be securing more national voting power for the people of Queens and the Bronx.”
The format of Sunday’s event — which was delayed one day while Ocasio-Cortez returned from campaigning in Hawaii for congressional candidate Kaniela Ing — saw area residents broaching issues before the Bronx progressive, who was seated in the front row.
At some point during the meeting, according to the social media feeds of attendees, Ocasio-Cortez got up and addressed the audience.
“We’ve been polite with racist people for far too long,” she said according to the Twitter feed of Nick Gulotta, an aide to Mayor de Blasio who was in attendance. “There’s a cultural idea that talking about race is divisive ... but I don’t think it’s divisive unless you’re a racist.”
Ocasio-Cortez also discussed the issue on Twitter on Monday.
“At yesterday’s town hall, someone asked how I, as just a human, am dealing with the hate, subconscious bias and criticism,” she wrote. “I’ve been told my whole life I’m not up to snuff. Folks always doubt my worthiness until I get it done.”
Other social media users in attendance said that topics such as affordable housing, charter schools and Borough President Melinda Katz’s interest in the building of a soccer stadium were discussed.
“The way we organize around electoral campaigns is the way we need to organize around issue campaigns when Congress is in session,” Ocasio-Cortez said.