According to a new report from the NY Times, residents from the neighborhoods of Corona and North Corona in Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) district “have had more coronavirus cases than any ZIP code in the country.”
From Marc Leibovich – NY Times
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the democratic socialist from the Bronx in New York City, was propelled from an anonymous existence as a bartender after her upset victory in 2018 straight onto magazine covers, late-night TV and the top of every partisan love-hate list in America. It made her perhaps the most exposed and fixated-on House freshman in history.
Today, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress — known simply as AOC — owns another distinction, this one far grimmer: She represents the nation’s most devastated hot zone of the coronavirus outbreak.
New York’s 14th Congressional District, which includes the working-class immigrant clusters of the Bronx and Queens, has had 19,200 coronavirus cases as of April 30, more than all of Manhattan, despite having almost 1 million fewer people. Residents of the neighborhoods of Corona and North Corona in her district — the names are an eerie coincidence — have had more coronavirus cases than any ZIP code in the country.
Ocasio-Cortez, 30, knows many who have died, as well as others who were sickened with the virus, or left hungry or jobless. She sends notes and makes calls to as many surviving family members as she can, serving as a kind of legislative first responder. But it can be hard to keep up.
“I’ll be on calls with service workers, front-line workers, and they’re the ones who have to pull bodies out of apartments,” she said, sitting in her empty and freezing campaign headquarters in the Bronx on a recent afternoon, surrounded by bags of donated food she was preparing to deliver to families in her district. The usually crowded streets were quiet, except for a steady assault of rain and sirens.
“There’s just so much first-, second- and third-degree trauma here,” she said.
She wore no mask, either to protect her face from germs during this interview (conducted at a 12-foot distance) or to cover up her emotions generally. The wreckage in her community has made a darkly eloquent case, she said, for her agenda of universal health care and less income inequity. “This crisis is not really creating new problems,” she said. “It’s pouring gasoline on our existing ones.”
But more personally, it has exposed the little-seen vulnerabilities and isolation of the most prominent new voice in Congress.
A case in point: Ocasio-Cortez had just returned from Washington after a vote last month on the latest relief bill in Congress. She was the only Democrat to vote against the $484 billion package that passed overwhelmingly. She had many problems with the measure: Generally, she found it far too generous to corporations and not to local governments, small businesses and people struggling to buy food or pay rent.
Several colleagues had told her they also disliked the legislation, but it was not until right before the vote that she realized she would be by herself. Passage was never in doubt, but to be the lone member of a caucus to vote a certain way carries its own stigma.
“Our brains are just designed to experience a lot of excruciating pain at the idea of being alone,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “When you cast those lonely votes, you feel like your colleagues respect you less, and that you are choosing to marginalize yourself.” It can be difficult to appreciate the “powerful psychology of the House floor,” she said, along with the overall social pressures of Congress.
“I walked home in the rain,” Ocasio-Cortez said, describing her mood after the bill passed. “I was very in my feelings, big time, and I felt very discouraged.” She said she would have appreciated, at least, a heads-up from the colleagues who had said they were probably no votes but then flipped at the last minute.
“I was just, like, heartbroken,” she said.
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