Meet Fernando Cabrera — Pro-Capitalism Candidate Challenging AOC's Congressional Seat

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Who Is Fernando Cabrera? New Details On Pro-Capitalism Candidate Challenging AOC's Congressional Seat

Everyone who pays attention to politics knows about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. AOC, as she's frequently called, swept into Congress on 2018 Blue Wave. She got there after defeating a long-time incumbent by running as way more liberal than typical establishment Democrats. She was one of a record number of women to take office this year and between her ambitious goals around the Green New Deal and her biting wit on Twitter, she has become a champion of the left. She and three other freshman Representatives who are all women of color have become known collectively as "The Squad" and they are forcing the party to reckon with the next generation of leaders and their priorities, as well as becoming a frequent punching bag for Donald Trump. 

None of that has slowed AOC down as she builds her record as a smart and savvy lawmaker. However, she now has a new challenge to deal with: a primary challenge. A New York City Council member has decided to run against her in the upcoming Democratic primary, Fernando Cabrero, a pastor and member of the City Council doesn't live in AOC's district but he's still making a run at her seat, saying that she is too much of a "socialist" for the Bronx. 

Who is Fernando Cabrera? Read on to find out all about him.

1. Cabrera's early years

According to his bio on this church website, Cabrera was born in the Bronx to Dominican parents and grew up in California. He became serious about religion as a teenager. "Fernando received Christ at the age of 17 years old, and his life was radically changed," the website says.  

He says that from the time he was a young adult, he wanted to start a church in his hometown of the Bronx. "Fernando received a calling from God in his early 20's to begin a church in the Bronx after completing his BA in Biblical Studies," the bio states." In the early 1980's he met Pastor Victor Torres, who took him under his wing, mentored him and provided him with the wisdom he would need on his journey. After serving in Richmond, Virginia as the Director of New Life for Youth; a rehabilitation center for young men for 3 yrs, Fernando set off to begin New Life Bronx in 1988."

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2. Cabrera's church ministry

According to the statement of faith on the church website, it appears that Cabrera takes a fundamentalist view of religion. The longest section in the statement of faith is about marriage and sexuality, where the church declares that it believes only in heterosexual marriage. "New Life Outreach International defines "marriage" as the exclusive covenantal union of one man and one woman in which such union is a lifetime commitment. A civil government's sanction of a union will be recognized as a legitimate marriage by the church only to the extent that it is consistent with the definition of "marriage" found in these articles."

The church is also transparent about its stance that no one who isn't in a heterosexual marriage should be having any sex at all. That appears to actually be criteria for employment there. "Legitimate sexual relations are exercised solely within marriage. Hence, sexual activities outside of marriage (referred to in the New Testament as "porneia") are inconsistent with the teachings of the Bible and the Church," the website says."We believe that in order to preserve the function and integrity of the church as the local Body of Christ, and to provide a biblical role model to the church members and the community, it is imperative that all persons employed by the church in any capacity, or who serve as volunteers, should abide by and agree to this Statement of Marriage and Sexuality and conduct themselves accordingly." 

The New York Post says Cabrera doesn't intend to make a big issue of his beliefs about same-sex relationships because he calls it settled law. This is a stark contrast to AOC who has been supportive of full rights for the LGBTQ+ community. She has not made any overt statements about what kind of sex her staff and volunteers are allowed to have. We take that to mean she doesn't think it's any of her business. 

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3. City Council terms

Cabrera was first elected to the New York City council in 2010. He is a Democrat and won his seat after challenging an unpopular Democratic incumbent in a primary. Since his election, he has served as Chair of the Juvenile Justice Committee and Co-chair of the Gun Violence Task Force. He is the former chair of the Technology Committee and he is a member of the Black, Latino & Asian Caucus. He has recently gained attention for legislation to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes.

He has twice attempted to mount a primary challenge to New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera, but to no avail. He lost by 91 points in 2014 and by 25 points in 2016.

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4. Running against AOC

When Cabrera announced his candidacy for the upcoming primary, he said he knew he would be treated as an underdog by many observers. “My entire life has been dedicated to the service of our community and our merciful God," he said in a statement. "I know many will dismiss this effort as a quixotic mission taking on our media-star congresswoman. To them, I say, while it is a mission, there is nothing quixotic or naive about it.” He has come out strong against her democratic socialist positions on issues. "We have not seen a country where socialism has proven to work. People are not dying to move to socialist countries,” he said. "AOC wants to put a system in place that has not worked in Venezuela and Cuba.”

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He's trying to position himself to the right of Ocasio-Cortez while still making it clear that he is a Democrat by doing things like touting Joe Biden's plans for health care. He is also attacking AOC on her strong objections to Amazon building a facility in her district — a plan that was ultimately scrapped by the online retail giant. Cabrera says the loss of Amazon meant the loss of future job opportunities in the district. But there was a widespread objection to the plan by activists, labor leaders and lawmakers, who had not approved of the package of $3 billion in taxpayer subsidies that state and city leaders were giving Amazon to locate there.

The Green New Deal is a central policy goal for AOC.

5. He doesn't even live in her district

One factor that Cabrera isn't dealing with right out of the gate is his residency. He doesn't live in Ocasio-Cortez's district. He says he would move there if he wins the primary. However, it raises the question of why he is mounting a primary against her instead of against his own Representative Adriano Espaillat, who is also up for re-election in 2020. If his interest is in serving the Bronx, there is no reason he couldn't do so as the Representative from the NY-13 District where he actually lives. Choosing to campaign outside of his home district against Ocasio-Cortez doesn't make a whole lot of sense and risks coming across as just another man trying to knock a powerful woman out of politics.

Cabrero is from the Bronx, but not the part that AOC represents. 

6. Does he have a chance?

It's hard to say if Cabrera is an actual threat to Ocasio-Cortez. Two years ago, she was the one running from behind to unseat an incumbent in that district and she succeeded. However, she is a very well known figure now and her popularity among Democrats is very high. In an August analysis, FiveThirtyEight found that she has a favorability rating of +37 points in national polling of Democrats. Since the primary race is all about registered Democrats, that's a strong indication that Dems in her home district probably feel pretty good about her. FiveThirtyEight also reminds us that she won her last primary with 57% of the vote and that's when she was an underdog with no record and no national profile. 

AOC hasn't commented on the news of her primary challenge at the time of this writing. 

Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.