- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2019

NEW YORK — Some voters who launched Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to political stardom say she has left her constituents in the dust.

At Ricky’s Cafe, a diner across the street from Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s newly opened district office in Jackson Heights, staff and customers said their congresswoman lost touch with them since she went to Capitol Hill less than three months ago.

“I see her on TV a lot but not in the neighborhood,” said waitress Barbara Nosel, 55. “You are supposed to come to the people without the media. You are one of us. You worked in a bar. You are not a princess.”

Although voters perceive a distance between themselves and their representative in Congress, they said they were not giving up on Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and could vote for her re-election in 2020.

She has just over a year and a half to prove herself.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s performance so far as a freshman congresswoman received mixed reviews in the 14th Congressional District, which includes parts of the Bronx and Queens.

“People are billing her as a superstar. I think she doesn’t have enough experience,” said lawyer Manuel Fabian, 65, a registered Democrat. He said Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s policies “lack substance, depth.”

“The Green New Deal looks good on paper, but I’m reluctant to give the government so much power and I don’t think this country is ready to embrace a socialist platform and I don’t think we ever will be,” he said. “But I’m willing to give her a chance. She’s got to learn the ropes.”

Some in the district were uncomfortable with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s socialist ideas. Others said they now don’t believe what she says.

“I admire her oomph. She’s Puerto Rican. She’s fighting for middle America,” said Iris Acosta, a 70-year-old retired teacher who also is Puerto Rican. “I just don’t like her being too fast, in your face. Go a little slower, and she could do a lot.”

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s office refused to answer repeated inquiries by The Washington Times about her constituents’ complaints.

She appeared to be a victim of her own notoriety, said Michael Miller, a political science professor at Barnard College in New York.

“Most members of Congress toil in relative obscurity, so voters may never learn that the member has done something disagreeable. But with the spotlight on her and every action scrutinized, of course it is more likely that the typical voter finds something to nitpick,” he said.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s first major legislation, the Green New Deal, went down in flames Tuesday in the Senate. It withered in a 57-0 vote with 43 Democrats, including Senate co-sponsor Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, refusing to take a stand and voting “present.”

The Green New Deal advocated a remaking of U.S. infrastructure and the economy in order to eliminate fossil fuels, with a price tag estimated as high as $93 trillion.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said she encouraged Democrats to vote “present” because Senate Republican leaders rushed the bill to the floor without a hearing.

She burst onto the political scene as a leading voice of a new generation of socialist Democrats when she defeated 20-year veteran Rep. Joe Crowley in the primary last year in the heavily Democratic district. She stressed her working-class status as a bartender and ran on a far-left platform of Medicare for all and tuition-free college.

She went on to become the youngest woman elected to Congress and the first woman of color elected from the majority-minority district.

Just weeks after Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was sworn in, polls showed her with more than 70 percent name recognition across the country, a level better than any of the party’s 2020 presidential candidates.

But being well known has not made her popular. A Gallup national poll this month showed Ms. Ocasio-Cortez with a rating of 31 percent favorable and 41 percent unfavorable.

Closer to home, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s political stances irked some in her district and in the New York political establishment.

She was one of the most outspoken opponents of Amazon’s plans to locate a corporate headquarters in Queens near her district. When Amazon canceled the project, robbing the area of 25,000 new jobs and a related economic boost, she cheered.

“Anything is possible: today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world,” she tweeted.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said she hurt the city and didn’t understand the tax break deal that lured Amazon.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo blasted the politicians, including Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who sank the Amazon deal for “putting their own narrow political interests above their community.”

Fresh off her historic run, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez also faced questions about campaign finances and an ethics complaint.

Saikat Chakrabarti, who organized and financed Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s run before becoming her congressional chief of staff, was accused of illegally funneling campaign donations to two companies he owned.

He set up Brand New Congress PAC to collect and bundle donations for newbie politicians such as Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. He then diverted more than $1 million into two of his companies that did campaign work, skirting reporting requirements, said a complaint to the Federal Election Commission by the conservative National Legal and Policy Center.

Another conservative group hit Ms. Ocasio-Cortez with an ethics complaint about listing her live-in boyfriend, Riley Roberts, as a staff member and getting him an official House email address.

The purported violations include at least two provisions of the House Code of Official Conduct and possibly U.S. criminal law for making false statements, according to the complaint by the Coolidge Reagan Foundation.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has denied any wrongdoing and accused conservative groups of targeting her.

The congresswoman’s office has said that Mr. Roberts is not a staff member and receives the same benefits as congressional spouses, including a House email address.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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