N.Y. Today: In Ocasio-Cortez’s district, disagreements

What you need to know for Friday.

Good morning. It's Friday. We'll look at Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the direction of the Democratic Party. We'll also meet the Norway spruce that is on the way to Rockefeller Center.

Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

For more than three years, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been the face of an ascendant ideological movement that pushed Democratic Party leaders leftward.

She may now be more of a symbol of how fractured the Democratic Party has become. Even in her district in Queens and the Bronx, there are sharp disagreements about the direction the Democrats should take. But she remains overwhelmingly popular among many there who watched her rocket from working as a waitress and bartender to becoming one of the Democratic Party's biggest stars.

My colleagues Katie Glueck and Nicholas Fandos — who have spent the last few days talking to Ocasio-Cortez's constituents, as well as elected officials and party leaders — write that the fissures have become clear as New Yorkers have parsed Ocasio-Cortez's vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

This has come against the backdrop of surprising Democratic losses last week, not just in Virginia, where Republicans won all three statewide offices, but even in a local race that touches part of Ocasio-Cortez's own district.

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Few people in New York politics can draw attention to issues in quite the way Ocasio-Cortez can. But some of her constituents in the Bronx and Queens were puzzled by her vote against the infrastructure bill, a priority for President Biden and congressional Democratic leaders. Ocasio-Cortez and five other progressives sought to use their no votes to pressure wavering moderates to support a bigger climate and social safety net bill that is pending.

To some, including those who admire her, the question came down to something like this: Is serving in government about pushing boundaries on issues like climate and persistent inequality? Or is it about fixing local problems like streets that are plagued by potholes and subways that need maintaining?

"She is saying she is voting for her constituents," said Jennifer Shannon, 51, who helps run a civic group in College Point, Queens, and who has voted for Ocasio-Cortez. "I'm not saying they don't all care about the environment, but I think people in her district are tired of the conditions of our streets and our subways."

Assemblyman Zohran Kwame Mamdani, a democratic socialist who represents one of the most left-leaning neighborhoods in Ocasio-Cortez's congressional district, suggested that the social programs and immigration provisions in the second bill were higher priorities for many at home.

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"All I've heard across the district has been support for the decision that she made," he said, referring to Ocasio-Cortez. "A lot of that is based on the fact that she was elected on the promise of fighting for more than the crumbs we've been told to accept."

But Tony Avella, a moderate Democrat who appears to have lost a City Council race in Queens, described Ocasio-Cortez as a "lightning rod" in the community and said that her strategy on measures like the infrastructure bill was hurting the Democrats' brand.

"I heard it over and over" at a polling place on Election Day, he said: "'Oh, the Democrats are terrible. The Democrats are not helpful, they fight among themselves, they don't care about us, they are socialists.'"

"It's a warning," he added.

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Diane Bondareff/Associated Press

A tree grew in Maryland

Julie Price of Elkton, Md., heard a knock at the door one evening in March and sent her husband to shoo away whoever it was — someone selling something, she figured.

Imagine her surprise when she looked out the window a few minutes later and saw her husband with a guy who was snapping photographs of a big Norway spruce in their yard. Imagine her surprise when her husband, Devon, came in the house and said, "That's the head gardener from Rockefeller Center in New York."

"I said, 'No way,' " Ms. Price recalled.

She Googled "head gardener" and "Rockefeller Center" and asked her husband if the man in the yard had said his name was Erik, the name that popped up in her search. It was. And the next thing she knew, the head gardener, Erik Pauze, was asking if they would be interested in sending their tree to New York.

The tree, estimated to be 85 to 90 years old, making it roughly the same age as Rockefeller Center, was harvested yesterday — cut, lifted out of the Prices' yard by a crane and loaded onto a trailer. It will be driven into Manhattan and installed tomorrow.

A few weeks after their first encounter, Pauze, whose name is pronounced paw-ZAY, asked permission to climb the tree. He fed it nutrients. It turned out to be 79 feet tall and 46 feet in diameter — not a record-setter (the winner and still-champion, in 1999, stood 100 feet tall). It is the first Rockefeller Center tree to come from Maryland.

The crowds that will ooh and ahh will no doubt hope that it will arrive looking more presentable than last year's tree did. That 75-foot evergreen from upstate New York seemed to be a metaphor for the pandemic-ravaged year. USA Today described its "lanky limbs and contorted shape," adding that "the annual beacon of cheer looked about as good as the rest of this year … not good." On Twitter, @RexChapman asked, "Could the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree look any worse? 2020 on brand." (At the time, a managing director of Tishman Speyer, the real estate firm that owns Rockefeller Center, disputed the notion that the tree somehow symbolized a terrible year, calling the tree "beautiful and full.")

Devon Price said that he and his wife had been reluctant to say yes to Pauze at first.

"But when we thought about it," he said, "we thought, we worry about it every time a storm comes through or there's heavy snow and ice. The branches could break off. It's in its prime. It would likely decline from here. It just made sense to let it go, let it bring happiness to New York, especially after the rough year and a half or two years we've had."

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METROPOLITAN DIARY

Mystery solved

Dear Diary:

I was riding the No. 6 several weeks ago on the way to dinner to celebrate a friend's birthday. It was the first time I had dressed up in quite some time.

A woman across from me kept staring at me. I didn't recognize her, and I wondered whether she recognized me. I thought she might be looking at one of my favorite pieces of jewelry, an old silver squash blossom necklace.

When she got to her stop, she paused on the way out the door.

"I just love your hair," she said.

Kathy Rubin

Glad we could get together here. See you Monday. — J.B.

Isabella Paoletto, Jeffrey Furticella, Rick Martinez and Olivia Parker contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at nytoday@nytimes.com.

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