AOC endorsing Maya Wiley is a test for Black and brown women’s political power

OPINION: Can the political star power of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) translate into voting power for NYC mayoral candidate Maya Wiley?

NYC mayoral candidate Maya Wiley and AOC
NYC mayoral candidate Maya Wiley and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Photo: NY1)

What a brave new world we live in as women. The vice president of the United States of America is a mixed-race Black, South Asian woman. We have 24 female U.S. Senators and have over 100 female members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

We have women governors, CEOs, college presidents, NASA engineers, astronauts, billionaires, Wall Street executives and on and on.

However, for women of color, specifically Black and Brown women, we still have so far to go. 

No place is that more apparent than in the arena of politics. Of the 24 women U.S. Senators, none are Black, one is Latina and two are of Asian or Pacific Islander descent. No Black woman has ever been elected governor of one of the 50 states, and only two Latinas have been elected as governors of New Mexico. The picture for Black women looks much better at the local level. 

If recent history is any indicator, though, Black female mayors in America are at a record high, and so it is for Maya Wiley of New York City and her bid to become the Empire State’s first woman mayor. What makes this race so interesting is that Wiley has now been endorsed by New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and progressive U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. This has helped to boost her chances in the New York primary in a crowded field.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (left) and New York City mayoral candidate Maya Wiley (right)
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (left) and New York City mayoral candidate Maya Wiley (right) (Photo: Getty Images)

But what this really shows us is something we have not seen before and that is a young, Latina Congresswoman wielding her power to support another woman of color in her bid for high political office. The test will be whether or not the political star power of “AOC” as she is known translates into voting power for candidate Wiley. And whether or not her endorsement can bring others along like Elizabeth Warren and more who can help her raise more money and help her build critical name ID in one of the biggest and most diverse cities in the nation.

The real test for us as women of color, however, is whether or not we can begin to do what white women have done over the past 40 years and what white men have done for centuries: build a bench, create a network of support and donors, and be able to break through the unique barriers we inevitable face when we announce we are running for office.

The truth is we cannot do it alone. Few of us have the money and stature of a Michelle Obama or an Oprah Winfrey (who I believe could run for any office they wanted including the presidency and be taken seriously), and few Black women have had the opportunity like a Kamala Harris to run successfully for statewide office in their early 30’s and become vice president by the time we are in our 50’s.
(Photo: Getty Images)

Harris is the exception to the rule and she knows it to be true. She was the lone Black female senator in the U.S. Senate from 2017 through 2021. Just four years in the world’s most deliberative, powerful and august body. She was as we know historically sworn in to the vice presidency this past January. And is presently on her first international trip to South America and Mexico to address issues of migration and the southern border crisis. 

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez understands the game well for a 31-year-old woman. She beat a five-term incumbent in a primary election to become the youngest woman ever elected to the House of Representatives in 2016. She has survived her first re-election and she is a national star in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

As for Wiley, she is a political novice, but that seems to work to her advantage. Wiley is a well-respected former counsel to the current New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and is a professor and attorney. And as an MSNBC legal analyst, she has had lots of airtime over the past two years that catapulted her into the national media spotlight. 

Maya Wiley,
New York City Mayoral candidate Maya Wiley speaks to the media on June 02, 2021 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Still, Wiley has not raised as much money as her male counterparts like Andrew Yang, who has zero political experience and who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2020, has been the big beneficiary of media attention and the butt of jokes too. Wiley desperately needed a break-out moment and AOC may have given her just that when she endorsed her last week. Time will tell if it makes the difference her campaign surely hopes it to be.

But here is the point: Black and Brown women need to become political allies. We need to donate to each other, canvas for each other, host events for each other and work across party lines even when it makes sense. Rep. Ocasio Cortez is setting a new standard for women of power being willing to wade into political primaries. It’s something men do often, which is why women candidates almost always lose such races to better funded, better-known men. 

That tide could soon be changing.

Sophia A. Nelson is a contributing editor for theGrio.

Have you subscribed to theGrio’s “Dear Culture” podcast? Download our newest episodes now!

TheGrio is now on Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku. Download today!