Ocasio-Cortez Accuses City Council Speaker of Playing ‘Dirty Politics’

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a frequent critic of moderate Democrats in her own party, has accused the speaker of the New York City Council of playing “dirty politics” against several progressive Democrats.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez criticized the speaker, Adrienne Adams, over a final city budget deal that she said included “unconscionable” cuts to education, and accused her of punishing Council members — most of them sharing Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s leftist views — who voted against her.

In an Instagram video on Tuesday night that was captioned “What dirty politics looks like,” the congresswoman said that the speaker deprived community groups that were supported by dissenting members, including an after-school program at a Boys & Girls Club in Queens.

“Who defunds after-school programming for underprivileged kids in public housing to score a political point?” she said. “That is like movie-villain type of decision-making right there.”

The $101 billion budget deal passed this week by a vote of 44 to 6. Several members who voted against the budget, including Tiffany Cabán, an ally of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, have criticized education spending cuts and called for more funding for affordable housing.

The budget included a $41.6 million pot of discretionary funding that is controlled by Ms. Adams, a moderate from Queens and the first Black woman to lead the City Council.

At first glance, it appeared that Ms. Cabán, along with the five other Council members who voted against the budget — Alexa Avilés, Sandy Nurse, Chi Ossé, Charles Barron and Kristin Richardson Jordan — were not given any discretionary funds from the speaker’s pool of money, and that their community groups and programs would suffer.

Aides to Ms. Adams, who declined a request for an interview, said that was not entirely the case. Some programs pushed by those Council members did receive city funds outside the speaker’s discretionary pot. In other cases, they received discretionary funds, but the Council member who requested the money was not listed as a sponsor — essentially denying the lawmaker public recognition for shepherding money to their communities.

“Of course my office would love the same credit our colleagues got for advocating for these vital programs,” said Ms. Cabán, a Queens councilwoman who had requested funding for the Variety Boys & Girls Club. “But what is most important is that we secure the funds and prevent any reduction in services.”

The Boys & Girls Club had hoped to receive $150,000 in city funding, but received only half of that. The money came from the budget’s local initiatives funding, not the speaker’s separate account, and was credited to a different councilman, Shekar Krishnan.

Costa Constantinides, chief executive of Variety Boys & Girls Club in Queens, said he had hoped that his organization would receive $150,000 from the budget and that he was confident that Ms. Adams would sort out the potential funding issue raised by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez.

“That would have been a really harsh cut if that were to stand,” said Mr. Constantinides, a former Queens councilman. “I think we are all working together to find a great resolution.”

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has taken an increasingly active role in New York politics to support left-leaning causes. She has been a vocal critic of moderate Democrats, including Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain who ran on a law-and-order message. More recently, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez took on Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, by endorsing his main primary rival, Alessandra Biaggi, a state senator.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez criticized the mayor in her Instagram video, arguing that Mr. Adams and Ms. Adams, who are not related, exerted pressure on Council members to force through unpopular spending choices. She highlighted cuts to the education budget and new spending on “surveillance technology.”

“These cuts are unpopular,” she said. “How do you actually get that to happen? You create a psychological and a political environment that is extremely hostile to dissent.”

Ms. Adams was chosen by Council members as a compromise candidate for the second-most powerful government post in the nation’s largest city. She was not the first choice of Mayor Adams or the progressive wing of the council, and she has kept a relatively low profile while seeking to avoid public skirmishes with the mayor and Council members.

But this was not the first time that Ms. Adams has been accused of political retaliation in recent weeks. Last month, a measure tied to a pension sweetener for veteran city police officers failed to get a required two-thirds majority vote from the Council.

The failure was seen as an embarrassment for Ms. Adams because it was the first time in years that a bill came to the floor and did not pass.

More than a dozen Council members abstained from voting on the measure, including Crystal Hudson, a left-leaning Brooklyn councilwoman. Not long after the vote, she was removed from the Council leadership team, a group of Council members who advise Ms. Adams and help implement her agenda.

Both Ms. Hudson’s office and Ms. Adams’s office declined to comment about Ms. Hudson’s removal from the leadership team, but various onlookers saw the move as a warning to the more left-leaning members of the Council — just as the cut in discretionary funds seemed to be.

“They don’t want your community to see how much good you are doing for that community,” said Mr. Barron, a Brooklyn councilman who has a history of voting no on budgets. “Your community is being punished for you voting against the budget.”

The $101 billion budget deal approved this week kept police spending flat and did not include additional funding to hire more correction officers, which had been a priority for the mayor. It also called for cutting $215 million in school funding, a move that the mayor said made sense because student enrollment has dropped. He said that schools would have enough money.

Justin Brannan, a councilman from Brooklyn who chairs the finance committee, dismissed the complaints of punitive action. “The budget isn’t a la carte,” he said, arguing that members can’t accept the parts they agree with while rejecting others.

“We did not cut the budget for public schools,” Mr. Adams said on Fox 5’s “Good Day New York” on Monday. “We reallocated the money based on the student population. We lost thousands of students.”

Fabien Levy, a spokesman for the mayor, said in a statement that Mr. Adams would increase schools funding if enrollment grows in the fall. “Anyone saying otherwise is being disingenuous and is simply taking part in political theater in an effort to get some clicks.”

Ms. Avilés said she expects further retribution for voting against the budget such as reshuffled committee assignments but that she was willing to accept that in order to oppose education cuts.

“I’m not going to vote against my conscience and my community,” Ms. Avilés said. “I have gotten nothing but praise from my community because they know what’s going on.”

Two years ago, Corey Johnson, the last Council speaker, was similarly accused of punishing members who voted against his budget, after a heated debate over the “defund the police” movement.

Mr. Barron said the episode shows why the speaker should not have $41 million to dole out at her discretion.

That’s not her money. That’s the people’s money. She should not have a pot of money,” Mr. Barron said. “You got 44 people to vote your way. What is the problem?”

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