Saturday afternoon, as New Yorkers scrolled through their phones, horrified at the terrorist massacre in Israel, a jarringly festive tweet interrupted the feeds of politically plugged-in locals: “Tomorrow, October 8, at 1PM. Times Square. In solidarity with the Palestinian people and their right to resist 75 years of occupation and apartheid. FREE PALESTINE!” exhorted the city’s branch of the Democratic Socialists of America. The tweet, which came as Israeli civilians were still hiding in their homes and as the death toll from Hamas’s murderous attack on a dance party that morning was still rising, was so beyond inappropriate, so cruel, that many readers thought it was a misguided spoof of the group. But no: the rally and the tweet were a direct response, and celebration, of Hamas’s 9/11-style attack—not even immediately after the attack, but as it was still taking place.
The NYC–DSA’s viciousness will spell the end of whatever scant power it has gained in New York City over the past half-decade. There is no coming back from this. The mystery is why mainstream New York politicians and observers ever thought the NYC–DSA, and the far Left it anchors, was powerful in the first place.
It doesn’t take an event-planning genius to understand that the people who join a rally in support of an unfolding terrorist attack are not going to give the best impression. But the hundreds who heeded NYC–DSA’s call to show up at Times Square Sunday failed to meet even the low expectations of human decency. Attendees covered their faces, the uniform of far-left protests. One attendee—seemingly underage—brandished a swastika. Others mocked the rave victims; one waved pictures of dead bodies and hostages, including kids. Even New York’s furthest-left elected officials had the good sense not to show up.
New York’s more moderate Democrats condemned the DSA. Governor Kathy Hochul responded quickly. “The planned rally is abhorrent and morally repugnant,” she wrote that Saturday night, the eve of the rally. Mayor Eric Adams’s response came later but was just as forceful: “at a moment when innocent people are being slaughtered and children kidnapped in Israel, it is disgusting that this group of extremists would show support for terrorism. . . . Do not use our streets to spread your hate,” he said, attending a vigil for the victims.
Adams has never been afraid of the left wing; it’s one of his best attributes as mayor. But Hochul has been; she nearly lost to a Republican in last year’s state election because, until the last weeks of the race, she was too squeamish to acknowledge New Yorkers’ concerns about the surge in crime that began in late 2019, after the state relaxed its criminal-justice regime. Her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, was scared of the Left in his last three years in office: that’s why he loosened the criminal-justice laws in the first place, as well as raising taxes on the wealthy.
But why? Many mainstream New York Democrats, including Cuomo, started to fear the Left in 2018, when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the city’s most prominent DSA champion, eked out her supposedly shocking landslide victory in the Democratic primary on her way to becoming the U.S. congressional representative for parts of the Bronx and Queens.
New York’s political class read this event as a new mandate for the Left, even though it was nothing of the sort. AOC won because she was young, beautiful, witty, charismatic, and, most important, because she campaigned hard—literally wore out her shoes running against a cranky, creaky machine politician who held the district in such contempt that he didn’t even live in it and barely campaigned. Similarly, two years later, Jamaal Bowman won his congressional seat in the Bronx and Westchester against a sclerotic, three-decade incumbent who also lived far from his nominal home base.
The next-most visible DSA member is comptroller Brad Lander, who claims he’s belonged to the group since 1987. But Lander barely beat his opponent, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, in 2021, under the city’s new ranked-choice voting system—and likely only because Johnson completely fell apart during the summer of Covid-19, failing to take a consistent position on the city’s riots. Johnson entered the comptroller’s race at the last minute, after dropping out of the mayoral race; Lander, by contrast, was a constant campaigner, everywhere, energetic and affable.
The remaining 14 DSA-endorsed officials holding New York office, after public advocate Jumaane Williams, who holds a powerless ceremonial post, are an eclectic mix of state lawmakers (eight) and city council members (five). They have no sway over anything without support from moderates.
In recent high-profile elections, New Yorkers have demonstrated their antipathy for the far Left that the DSA represents. In the 2021 mayoral primary, voters had their choice of lefty defund-the-police candidates with credible resumes: Dianna Morales and Maya Wiley. Both fared badly. The top vote-getters, Adams and then-sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, were pragmatic moderates, with Adams, a former cop, running an overtly law-and-order campaign. And in last year’s race for governor, Republican Lee Zeldin gained enough votes from city voters frustrated with disorder to post a credible threat to Hochul. Early this year, 15 city council members, including five representing Manhattan, quit the council’s progressive caucus, worried that its DSA-style “defund” rhetoric would hurt them in primary elections.
The NYC–DSA’s present breathtaking failure to judge New York’s political temperature reminds us of the fragility of the coalition among the far-left DSA, left-of-center progressivism, and liberalism. Many progressive ideas, such as bike lanes, depend on an environment of basic public safety: since 2020, the movement for bike lanes and pedestrian plazas has lost steam, as voters have had more acute public-safety fears to worry about. The center-left constituency that politicians like Lander depend on to stay in office includes liberal Jews from Park Slope and the Upper West side—people who hate Donald Trump and might be in favor of a DSA goal like, say, sharply raising taxes on the wealthy, but who are horrified at the images of a Times Square crowd mocking the deaths of fellow Jews (or, for that matter, of anyone). Similarly, a progressive New Yorker who favors more environmental spending might oppose open borders, as the DSA calls for.
Now, even its most famous elected officials are running as fast as they can from the DSA, despite the group’s post-rally backtracking. The NYC–DSA promoted the Sunday rally “at the request of a coalition partner,” it said in a statement to Politico on Monday (the timeless “someone else made me do it” argument). Hours after the rally, Lander tweeted that “today’s DSA rally—which effectively celebrated Hamas’ murder & kidnapping of hundreds of Israeli civilians, including children and grandparents—was abominable.” AOC, too, opined that “it should not be hard to shut down hatred and antisemitism where we see it. That is a core tenet of solidarity. The bigotry and callousness expressed in Times Square on Sunday were unacceptable and harmful.”
That it took Ocasio-Cortez a full day to make that statement (she did condemn Hamas earlier) is further proof that the DSA is over in New York City, and the far-left movement associated with it even deader than before.
Sure, AOC waited to see which way the wind blew—she’s good at that. But she judged correctly: it is blowing away from left-wing radicalism. One measure of the local DSA’s desperation and confusion is that after AOC’s repudiation, it attempted a non-apology apology on Twitter Tuesday night—one in which it still managed to remind New Yorkers, in capital letters, to “END OCCUPATION & APARTHEID.” Without her glamour, the NYC–DSA is just a small bunch of misfit lawmakers. Some may keep their seats; New York politics always has room for a few radical kooks. But no New York politician aspiring to a mainstream career will court DSA support going forward.
Photo by Adam Gray/Getty Images