In the end, Joe Crowley was not defeated by some amazing national trend or emergence of a new force as many in the media are claiming. Demographics was destiny.
New York’s 14th District is now 70 percent people of color, 50 percent Hispanic. Joe was a big white Irishman. He was a target for a Latino candidate. He had not had an opponent in 14 years. Finally, he got one who fit the neighborhood completely, a 28-year-old Latino woman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, with a clear plan to run to Crowley’s left and appeal to the Latino vote.
He was King Of Queens, head of the Democratic Party machine in the one borough where it still counted. He was on his way to the top, likely next in line to be speaker after Pelosi if Dems win back the House.
Not to be. Politics is a cruel mistress. In my experience, we never give politicians enough credit for laying their futures on the line every time it comes time to vote.
We were shocked at the outcome but yet what happened Joe is completely self-evident.
Latinos and folks of color voted for one of their own. The Irish did it in their time so we can have little complaint. The district that Joe Crowley took over from fellow Irishman Tom Manton in 1998 was very different. There was still an Irish, Jewish, Italian element back then that was very strong. Manton’s predecessor was Gary Ackerman, Ackerman predecessor was Ray McGrath, you get the picture.
Joe took me for a walk around his district one time. There were 71 languages spoken there he pointed out, hundreds of thousands of immigrants. There had also been redistricting which took old-time ethnic enclaves away.
He showed me how those immigrants had revived old, dying neighborhoods with small business and social activity. His district was the best example of the importance of hard-working immigrants and what they could achieve for a neighborhood he pointed out. Racist Americans would hate the polyglot culture, the colorful bodegas and stores, the sheer difference of it all to monochrome suburbia.
Joe was the last of the Irish bosses in Queens. His mother was an immigrant from Armagh who sang all the old songs at the least invitation. Like her, Joe was musical and he loved to bang it out on a guitar, usually an Irish ballad or two. At his fiftieth birthday six years ago Joe and his mom sang many of the old songs. Everyone sang, it was a typical Crowley party.
At his election party, he took his defeat on the chin and praised his opponent and said there were all in the fight against Trump together. Like Irish people everywhere, Joe Crowley knows the world can break your heart but his spirit was clearly unbroken.
He will be missed in the Irish community and hopefully, will not be a stranger. In the end, it was the changing face of Queens and The Bronx that decided the race. There was no way to stem that tide.
Finally, what an example our president set by gloating over Joe’s defeat like a jackal feeding on a carcass. This guy’s lack of class and nastiness shines through more every day. He’s not fit to tie Joe’s shoelaces when it comes to class.