Rising political star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has often talked about her working-class roots in New York City’s Bronx, saying in a campaign video alongside gritty street images, “I was born in a place where your ZIP code determines your destiny.”
But in the days following the Democrat’s stunning primary victory over 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley, she has been forced to defend that campaign narrative against conservative critics who have seized on reports that she spent much of her life growing up, not in the Bronx, but 35 miles north on a quiet suburban street in Westchester County.
Ocasio-Cortez’s mother, Blanca, told The New York Times that her daughter was about 5 years old when the family moved from the Bronx, where she was born, to a modest home in Yorktown, New York, that property records show her father purchased a few years before for $150,000. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign said that move was made to allow her to attend better schools, and that she moved back to the Bronx after graduating from college.
John Cardillo, who hosts “America Talks Live” on the Newsmax cable channel, sent a tweet Sunday showing a photo of Ocasio-Cortez’s childhood home with the caption: “This is the Yorktown Heights (very nice area) home @Ocasio2018 grew up in before going off to Ivy League Brown University. A far cry from the Bronx hood upbringing she’s selling.” He was apparently referencing a Daily Mail story on the subject that appeared a day before.
The 28-year-old Ocasio-Cortez replied on Twitter that, for starters, she didn’t go to Brown but attended Boston University. She told Cardillo to “Try Google,” and commented that Yorktown Heights was “a good town for working people,” where her mom scrubbed toilets so she could afford to live there.
“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,” she tweeted.
Cardillo acknowledged that he got Ocasio-Cortez’s college wrong but continued to tweet criticisms of her through Monday morning, even inviting her onto the show to respond.
Campaign spokesperson Corbin Trent said that being in both worlds showed Ocasio-Cortez how a ZIP code can determine opportunities.
“From an early age, Alexandria grew up with a deep understanding of income inequality,” her campaign website said. “The state of Bronx public schools in the late 80s and early 90s sent her parents on a search for a solution. 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.”
Trent explained that the 40-minute “commute” referred to Ocasio-Cortez’s trips to visit extended family on weekends and holidays.
Ocasio-Cortez’s victory was seen as a possible shift in the Democratic Party to more progressive candidates in the mold of Sen. Bernie Sanders, on whose 2016 presidential campaign she worked. She will be heavily favored in the general election against Anthony Pappas, a St. John’s University economics professor.