This morning, democratic socialist congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed all thirteen candidates for state office whose campaigns are backed by the New York City Democratic Socialists of America (NYC-DSA).
Endorsements by AOC, whose approval can transform a campaign’s prospects, are often treated as mysterious koans — puzzled over by political insiders who ponder why she chose one candidate and overlooked others, why she used to make so few endorsements, or why she now makes so many. Today’s announcement is unburdened by any such ambiguities: AOC’s endorsement reflected solidarity with NYC-DSA’s platform and movement, against the forces of capitalism and reaction both inside and outside the Democratic Party.
Though each candidate was individually vetted by DSA through the group’s formal electoral mechanisms, the congresswoman’s announcement was not couched as being about any one of them in particular; AOC’s intention appears to be to boost New York’s socialist movement as a whole.
This year, NYC-DSA’s “For the Many” slate includes incumbent assemblymembers Phara Souffrant Forrest (AD-57), Emily Gallagher (AD-50), Zohran Kwame Mamdani (AD-36), and Marcela Mitaynes (AD-51), and state senators Jabari Brisport (SD-25) and Julia Salazar (SD-18). It also includes seven insurgent candidates: social worker Illapa Sairitupac (AD-65), tech worker Kristen Gonzalez (SD-59), cab driver David Alexis (SD-21), community gardener and district leader Keron Alleyne (AD-60), district leader Samy Nemir Olivares (AD-54), former Peekskill city councillor Vanessa Agudelo (AD-95), and Hudson Valley climate activist Sarahana Shrestha (AD-103).
This is the biggest slate in NYC-DSA’s history. The 2018 midterm elections saw both AOC and state senator Julia Salazar win their seats. In 2020, a larger slate ran — Mamdani, Mitaynes, Forrest, and Brisport — and all four won their elections. (Gallagher wasn’t endorsed by NYC-DSA at the time, but she ran as a socialist, won, and has since worked closely with the DSA slate and joined it as an endorsee this year.)
Last year, NYC-DSA competed in city council races, with two wins and four losses. The latter development was seized on by opponents to construct a narrative claiming that popular sentiment is turning against the organization. Such developments can drain morale within a political organization. This year, it’s likely that with its map expanded to thirteen races, NYC-DSA will face some losses — but the wins will be significant, and all the campaigns will help NYC-DSA grow in new communities.
State senate candidate Kristen Gonzalez, who lives in Long Island City and was active in successful campaigns there against Amazon and against the toxic natural gas NRG Energy plant, was overjoyed by the AOC endorsement when asked for comment on Wednesday. Her campaign is similar to AOC’s 2018 insurgent congressional bid: Gonzalez, who was a volunteer field lead for AOC’s reelection campaign, is running against a thoroughgoing machine candidate, Elizabeth Crowley — a cousin of Joe Crowley, the centrist who AOC unseated that year.
Gonzalez is running in a four-day-old district that includes Astoria, overlapping significantly with AOC’s district. Working on AOC’s campaign brought Gonzalez into socialist politics, she says, adding, “I’m excited to continue the movement she started, for the Green New Deal, against corporate machine politics, a grassroots movement centered on the working class.” She says her campaign is about showing that “our district is not for sale.”
This year’s thirteen-person slate is ambitious; some have argued that the group may be biting off more than it can chew in terms of street-level organization. But AOC’s endorsement is likely to bring significant resources to the campaigns, including grassroots dollars, volunteers, and media attention.
It will also no doubt sway the many New York voters who already know and like AOC in the slate’s favor. AOC is popular in these districts; her name often functions as shorthand for democratic socialist values and politics, for priorities like single-payer health care, a Green New Deal, a right to housing, publicly funded energy, and fully funded public schools. If you canvass door-to-door for socialist candidates in the city (as, full disclosure, I have), this becomes obvious.
“Is she AOC’s friend?” one registered voter once asked me. “In that case, yes, of course.”
That appeal extends beyond city limits. Campaigning in the Hudson Valley, Sarahana Shrestha told Jacobin, “People often tell me, if AOC can win, you can do it here.”
Ocasio-Cortez has never tied her political brand to the familiar “you-go-girl” type of individualism; her story is not one of political bootstrapping. “This is not about one candidate,” says Shrestha. “One candidate is not going to be able to do anything alone. We have developed knowledge as part of a movement.” The power of such campaigns is their relationship to the climate and labor movements, to organizing for housing, racial justice, and socialism.
“When people say, ‘If AOC can do it,’ they are talking about the movement — they are talking about the bigger picture.”