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Julia Salazar is looking to land the next blow against the New York Democratic machine

Progressive 'epidemic' about to spread rapidly in New York

Julia Salazar, a candidate for the New York state Senate, was standing outside a barbershop in her North Brooklyn neighborhood one recent afternoon, when a barber looked up and saw her through the window. Squinting through the glass, he pointed to a “Salazar for Senate” sign on the wall of the shop, gestured in her direction, and mouthed, “That’s you?” She smiled. “That’s me.”

The 27-year-old community organizer has become a recognizable name and face in the neighborhood thanks to an aggressive ground game in her challenge to eight-term incumbent Democratic state Sen. Martin Dilan. Salazar and scores of volunteers have blanketed the district collecting signatures to get her name on the ballot for the September 13 primary. Salazar, her campaign told The Intercept, plans to submit many times more than the requisite 1,000 signatures from registered Democrats in the district by the July 9 filing deadline.

Dilan, a vestige of the corrupt patronage machine of former Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez, has held the North Brooklyn seat since Salazar, a working-class Colombian immigrant, was 11 years old.

Interest in Salazar’s insurgent campaign spiked last week when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, another millennial Latina, shook the political world by trouncing Queens Democratic Party boss Rep. Joe Crowley in a congressional primary. As news of Ocasio-Cortez’s upset spread, Salazar tweeted, “This is the most inspiring campaign victory I have ever witnessed.” Over the past few months, Ocasio-Cortez and Salazar have shared stages, knocked doors together, and endorsed each others’ campaigns. “Alexandria, mi hermana, mi heroína,” Salazar wrote on election night, “I am so grateful to be in this movement with you.”

Saturday morning, Ocasio-Cortez emailed her supporters encouraging them to sign up to petition for Salazar and a few other progressive women candidates. “I can’t think of a better place to start the fight for progressives like us than helping get Julia Salizar [sic], Zephyr Teachout and Cynthia Nixon on the ballot!” she wrote. (Nixon, who’s challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo, also endorsed Salazar this week.) “When nobody else would endorse us or cover our race, these three women broke ranks and endorsed Ocasio 2018. Now it’s time to stand by them.”

Ocasio-Cortez followed up with a tweet on Monday, encouraging her followers to help gather signatures on Salazar’s behalf: “@SalazarSenate18 isn’t the next me, she’s the first HER.”

A win by Salazar would help solidify the gains made by Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated, but did not vanquish, the party machines. The similarities between the candidates are more than superficial. Both are committed socialists endorsed by Democratic Socialists of America. Both support abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a once-fringe rallying cry that has seeped into mainstream liberal discourse in recent weeks. Both were raised by working-class parents and threw themselves into community organizing as teenagers. And, tragically, both endured the deaths of their fathers before their 20th birthdays. Most of all, Salazar and Ocasio-Cortez represent a new generation of young, diverse, unapologetically radical women poised to take over the Democratic Party.

The night of Ocasio-Cortez’s win, Salazar, who was at the victory party, felt the earth shift beneath her feet. “At first, I was shocked,” she told me last week. “I’m less shocked now. When you do this kind of work, you’re constantly managing expectations. You have a grander vision, but on a daily basis, you’re just putting one foot in front of the other. That night, I realized we can do so much more. We can win.”

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