Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in the eleventh hour accepted to face off her democratic primary opponents in-person ahead of next week’s primary, but the incumbent made sure there was a lack of media coverage as she demanded that reporters be removed from the venue before taking the stage.
AOC had planned to skip out on the city’s only in-person showdown, citing social distancing guidelines and she previously participated in two hour-long debates that were held virtually.
“The good thing is I’m not skipping debates. My predecessor, he had skipped debates until he was forced to show up,” Ocasio-Cortez said on Monday to reporters while out campaigning in The Bronx. “This one [Wednesday’s] is in-person, so we’ve had certain issues with that being done during phase one, if that would be violating the Phase One and Phase Two scheduled reopening by the governor. Which is why we’ve committed to virtual debates and are happy to participate in them.”
However, despite claiming social distancing as an excuse to not attend, AOC was seen earlier this month handing out masks to Floyd protesters in Queens and hosting a graduation party in a church parking lot on Sunday, next to an early voting site.
The “Mother of All Debates” is hosted by Parkchester Times, a local Bronx newspaper that ironically sponsored the same debate 10-term Rep. Joseph Crowley skipped out against challenging then-opponent, Ocasio-Cortez a week before the 2018 primary. The absence was seen as an insult and helped AOC unseat him by 15 points in a shocking primary result.
“Ocasio-Cortez is claiming her incumbency privilege,” Parkchester Times publisher Sheikh Musa Drammeh said. “But if she does the same thing, history will repeat itself.”
The Freshman Democrat finally caved in to pressure after her Democratic challenger, former CNBC anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera wrote an open letter to challenge her to the face-to-face debate, the same debate that gave AOC her ticket to Capitol Hill two years ago.
“I can understand why you might be reluctant to debate me in person – I raised a number of questions during the first two virtual debates that you probably didn’t want your constituents to hear – why at the height of the COVID pandemic you were the ONLY Democrat to vote against funding for COVID testing, against funding for hospitals, and against funding for small businesses here in the Bronx and Queens?” Caruso-Cabrera wrote. “That being said, I urge you to reconsider. I would urge you to recall that two years ago, it was former Rep. Joe Crowley who refused to show up to debate YOU in the Parkchester debate – sending a surrogate in his stead, which you called ‘a bizarre twist.’ What I cannot understand, therefore, is why you would deprive your constituents with this opportunity to participate more fully in the democratic process by robbing them of the only face-to-face debate of this primary.”
According to AOC spokesperson, Lauren Hitt, the freshman Democrat decided to accept the challenged on the condition that the organizer would ensure that there will be no violation of social distance rules.
“As long as the venue respects the 10 person rule, Congresswomen will be there. She is only concerned about crowded room that violates social distancing rules and jeopardize audience,” Hitt said in a statement.
Abiding to the demands from AOC, the debate sponsor only allowed 10 people to be inside the venue — the congresswoman and her campaign staff, Caruso-Cabrera, and another opponent, Badrun Khan, the debate moderator, one photographer and Drammeh. Reporters, including The Floridian Press, were told that they were not allowed to be inside to cover the debate despite the fact that only media were allowed to attend and the venue was large enough to hold 25 people socially distancing.
Caruso-Cabrera condemned the freshman congresswoman behavior after Wednesday night debate for “demanding that reporters leave” the debate venue, calling AOC a “temperamental princess” and acting like a “spoiled, out-of-touch Hollywood celebrity.”
“At tonight’s Parkchester Times debate, in behavior more appropriate for a temperamental princess than an elected Member of Congress, AOC demanded that reporters and audience members leave the room before she took the stage. She left the residents of the 14th District with a malfunctioning Facebook feed that could scarcely be heard,” Caruso-Cabrera said in a statement after the debate. “She threw out residents of the 14th Congressional District who wanted to attend this debate. She threw out reporters who have put themselves and their families at risk day and night these past two months covering breaking stories related to COVID and social justice.”
Caruso-Cabrera noted that AOC is “not a Democrat” nor a “Democratic Socialist,” calling her a socialist who “clearly in favor of censorship.”
“Like a petulant child, AOC refused to take the stage until all of these individuals were removed from the room. What kind of representative does that?” AOC is acting like a spoiled, out-of-touch Hollywood celebrity. She refused to participate in this debate until journalists shamed her into doing it and boy, did she get her revenge on all of them tonight by having them tossed out of the debate hall,” she said. “She sure cares more than them about one thing, and that’s herself. She is a joke of a representative.”