A rising political star who unseated a 10-term congressman in a Democratic Party primary last week is facing questions about whether she grew up in an urban Bronx neighborhood or on a quiet suburban street in Westchester County.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 28, who beat longtime U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley in an upset victory Tuesday, lived in Yorktown and went to Yorktown public schools — which some are saying doesn’t jibe with her campaign narrative of being “a girl from the Bronx.”
“The state of Bronx public schools in the late '80s and early '90s sent her parents on a search for a solution,” the biography on her campaign website states. “She ended up attending public school 40 minutes north in Yorktown, and much of her life was defined by the 40-minute commute between school and her family in the Bronx.”
Ocasio-Cortez was 2 years old when her father, Sergio Ocasio-Roman, bought a modest home on Longvue Street in Yorktown for $150,000. The family lived in the Parkchester section of the Bronx at the time and moved to the house in Yorktown a few years later.
Ocasio-Cortez graduated from Yorktown High School in 2007.
Her father died in September 2008, just as she was starting her sophomore year at Boston University. The house was deeded to her mother, the executor of her father’s will, in 2012.
Westchester County land records show that Ocasio-Cortez was living there with her mother and brother in 2016 when they sold the home for $355,000.
The candidate didn’t return a call or email seeking comment. In a statement she gave to the Daily Mail.com on Tuesday, she said the story she has told through her campaign was consistent that she “grew up between two worlds.”
She said her extended family chipped in for a down payment on the home and her father and extended family continued to live in the Bronx through her school years, according to the Daily Mail.
Her move to Yorktown was documented in a New York Times profile published after her victory last week, but her campaign bio’s description of a commute was criticized for telling a different story.
“It was clear to her, even then, that the ZIP Code a child was born in determined much of their destiny,” it states. “The 40-minute drive represented a vastly different quality of available schooling, economic opportunity and health outcomes.”
Late night TV
In an interview with Stephen Colbert on TV’s “The Late Show,” Ocasio-Cortez responded to a question about how she’d deal with President Donald Trump, who was born in Queens, by saying “I don’t think he knows how to deal with a girl from the Bronx.”
The Daily Mail called into question her Bronx bona fides in a story Saturday and, on Sunday, conservative talk-show host John Cardillo tweeted out a photo of the family home she grew up in Yorktown “before going off to Ivy League Brown University.”
“A far cry from the Bronx hood upbringing she’s selling,” the tweet said.
Ocasio-Cortez fired back at Cardillo on Twitter, noting she went to Boston University and not Brown. She went on to say “it was a good town for working people.”
“My mom scrubbed toilets so I could live here & I grew up seeing how the zip code one is born in determines much of their opportunity,” the tweet stated.
It continued, “Your attempt to strip me of my family, my story, my home, and my identity is exemplary of how scared you are of the power of all four of those things.”
Victory signals a shift
Ocasio-Cortez’s victory in the primary last week has been analyzed for possibly signifying a shift in the Democratic Party electorate. The candidate won in a diverse district despite a fundraising disadvantage and ran as a “Democratic socialist” in the mold of Sen. Bernie Sanders, on whose 2016 presidential campaign she had worked.
She’ll face Queens resident Anthony Pappas, a St. John’s University professor, in the general election in November, but she’s considered all but a shoo-in.
Active registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 214,000-33,000 in the 14th Congressional District. Papas, reached by telephone, saw the residency discussion as much ado about nothing.
“If she wants to define herself as a girl from the Bronx and she’s comfortable with that identity, I think she can say that’s the case,” he said. “You don’t have to be exclusively in the Bronx every minute of your life. You know, the same thing applies to me, I could say I’m a lifelong New York resident, but I went away to college at MIT.”