Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez vows to take the money out of politics. The self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, who unseated the 10-term incumbent U.S. Representative Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) in last month’s primary, further believes in creating a federal jobs guarantee. She has refused to take any financing from corporate political action committees and aims to curb the power of investment banks, in part by restoring Glass-Steagall, a law that separated commercial and investment banking.
It might come as some surprise, then, that the 28-year-old wunderkind is also an entrepreneur, who in 2011 launched a publishing venture through a local startup network, Sunshine Bronx Business Incubator, which charges some $195 per month for shared work space and business advice.
“We seek to develop and identify literature in urban areas,” the then-22-year old said of her now-defunct startup, Brook Avenue Press, in a video interview. She went on to encourage investors to support Bronx businesses, saying: “Rather than think of it as somewhere to run from, the Bronx is somewhere to invest,” in an interview with the New York Daily News. Ocasio-Cortez reportedly spent around $1,000 to get her business off the ground, and further advocated for a New York City bill that would double tax deductions for new business startup costs, bringing that figure from $5,000 to $10,000. The National Hispanic Institute even named Ocasio-Cortez their social entrepreneur in residence, recognizing her commitment to the company and greater Hispanic community. (Ocasio-Cortez did not return a call for comment in time for publication.)
It’s that background in particular that gives hope to the business community in New York. Should Ocasio-Cortez win the seat in the mid-term elections in November, which she is largely expected to do, it may well provide solace to business owners en masse. After all, another self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist currently serving in Congress is Bernie Sanders, the junior senator from Vermont.
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From a governance standpoint, Ocasio-Cortez’s background is meaningful, says Bradley Tusk, an investor and political strategist who runs the New York City-based Tusk Holdings, which includes an investment firm and political consultancy. “There are not that many members of Congress who truly know how hard it is to create a business out of nothing, and that limits their ability to form insightful and effective policies around jobs, taxes, and regulations,” he says, adding: “Having people who’ve been through it goes a long way.”
Of course, the candidate is in many respects a Democratic Socialist first–even as she was building the publishing venture in the Bronx incubator. “My impression of her [was] that she had these idealistic tendencies within her business, Brook Avenue Press. It was very much a social enterprise,” recalls Eathan Janney, a serial entrepreneur and scientist who at the time was building a composting startup, Dirt Works. He now runs a piano-tuning business called Floating Piano Factory that counts five total employees. “The general feeling of that space was that it was about using the community and people around you,” he adds, explaining how the incubator was different from more traditional corporate spaces. “It wasn’t just a co-working space; you were actually interacting with people and building relationships,” he adds.
Her more extreme views aren’t a deal breaker, however, says Tusk. “These things are not mutually exclusive…. There is no reason why you can’t believe in progressive values and income redistribution and also believe that a small business or new idea should have the chance to compete on a level playing field.”
To wit, Ocasio-Cortez would most likely advocate for continuing to fund the U.S. Small Business Administration, which partially guarantees loans made to small businesses and provides funding for organizations like the Bronx incubator formerly frequented by the would-be Congressperson. And Jeffrey Deasy, the resident business counselor at the non-profit Business Outreach Center Network based in Brooklyn, sees a vote for Ocasio-Cortez as a potential vote for an across-the-board $15 minimum wage–and that, he says, stands to benefit local companies. “In New York City, people tend to shop and invest in their neighborhoods,” he explains. If residents are guaranteed a base salary, he continues, “local restaurants, dry cleaners, laundromats, and other small-scale businesses would all benefit.” And that, he says, is worth trying for. “I’d like to see her win,” he adds.
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