New York News

Catholic Teacher Aims for AOC

John Cummings is running for the GOP nomination for the 14th congressional district of New York. He teaches at St. Raymond’s H.S., the Bronx. (Photo: Emily Drooby)

THE BRONX — Any Republican running against Democratic Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose congressional district spans parts of the Bronx and Queens, will be a longshot, but John Cummings, a Catholic who teaches civics at St. Raymond’s H.S., the Bronx, is trying anyway.

Cummings is one of five Republicans so far, who are running to earn a chance to take on Ocasio-Cortez, a national firebrand who won her seat in 2018 with almost 80 percent of the vote.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the Democratic congresswoman for a district that spans parts of the Bronx and Queens. (Photo:CNS/Gregory A. Shemtiz)

The teacher from St. Raymond’s thinks he has a chance against AOC.

“I think there’s a lot of working-class Democrats that really don’t want to deal with a socialist agenda, the high taxes that go with it, the loss of freedom (and) the loss of liberty,” Cummings said.

For Cummings, the inspiration to run came from his students. He said that for years they have told him, “Mr. Cummings, you know so much about this! Why don’t you run?”

The thought of running had crossed Cummings’ mind, but he thought the election was unwinnable because former congressman Joe Crowley seemed to be so entrenched in the district.

But Ocasio-Cortez ended Crowley’s 20-year run representing the 14th congressional district, leaving Cummings with a “lame excuse” not to run, in the words of his students.

The 14th congressional district includes the neighborhoods of Astoria, College Point, Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst,  Jackson Heights and Woodside.

Frank D’Onofrio, a classmate of Cummings’ from St. Raymond’s, remembers his friend as always standing up for him and others who were bullied. He said Cummings is a “service-oriented person.”

“That’s really why John would be great. John’s not about a national profile,” D’Onofrio said. “It’s not about a national profile for him. This is about doing what’s right for his community.”

Cummings said he believes education is a big question in his district. He favors charter schools and vouchers.

“If you’re not pursuing every route a young person can use to get a solid education, then I think you’re failing the people in the district,” Cummings said.

His first career was as a police officer for the NYPD, where he spent most of his eight and a half years on the force in the Harbor Unit securing the waters around New York City.

Cummings said he believes his work in law enforcement would allow him to bring a unique perspective to the House of Representatives.

“I’ve obviously faced those life-and-death situations that a lot of people don’t normally…” Cummings said. “That is something I would like to get involved in — try to use my expertise with homeland security or something like that.”

Cummings grew up in the Parkchester section of the Bronx and attended St. Raymond’s for grammar school and high school. The school was just a couple of blocks away from his family’s house. He graduated from the high school in 1978.

He returned to his high school after an injury ended his career at the NYPD. He’s been a civics and government teacher at St. Raymond’s since 1997.

“My heart was always at St. Raymond’s,” Cummings said. “They played a large role in my formative years, and after I left the police department, I decided that was probably a good opportunity for me to give back what was given to me so freely.”

Faith is a big part of Cummings’ life. “I like to tell people, ‘God had other plans for me,’” he said. “A very long time ago I was told, ‘God makes the plan, and we don’t get to see the plan.’”

He will find out next year whether being a Republican nominee for Congress is in God’s plan. The primary is June 23 of next year.