NEW YORK (AP) — Republican congressional candidate Anthony Pappas says he knows he has almost no chance of beating rising Democratic star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
But the St. John's University professor is grateful that the publicity surrounding her is also bringing attention to his campaign, which is focused on reforming the judiciary after his own bitter divorce.
"You, of course, want to win, but you also have to be realistic," Pappas said in an interview on the campus this past week. "But the politics now are volatile and you can say anything can happen."
In fact, Ocasio-Cortez herself was the underdog few people had heard of outside of the Bronx-Queens district last month when she upset 10-term Rep. Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary. That brought national attention to the 28-year-old progressive and her positions advocating universal health care, tuition-free college and federal jobs for the unemployed.
Pappas, a 72-year-old economics expert, said he would challenge Ocasio-Cortez on how she intends to pay for such programs. But in his interview, Pappas mostly wanted to talk about his gripes with the judicial system over his decade-long divorce battle, which ended with findings that he was abusive to his wife and even made veiled threats against one judge.
"I was motivated by my personal experience," Pappas said.
Pappas says a jury got it wrong when it granted his wife, Maria Pappas, a divorce on grounds of cruel and inhumane treatment. Judge Stanley Gartenstein got it wrong when he interpreted a letter from Pappas saying he "may become a crusader" as a threat. Judge Hope Schwartz Zimmerman got it wrong in 2013 when she found that Maria Pappas was "terrified of the husband" and ordered a 20-year restraining order.
Pappas denied he was abusive, saying his ex-wife made it all up.
Maria Pappas did not respond to phone calls requesting comment.
Some of the couple's divorce proceedings were recounted in a lawsuit that Pappas filed against three judges, his ex-wife and her attorney. It revealed that judges characterized Pappas' testimony as "diatribes" and that he claimed to be in an unstable mental condition after his wife filed the divorce.
At one point in the proceedings, Judge Gartenstein felt so threatened that he stopped Pappas from reaching into his pocket for his eye glasses. Pappas dismisses the judge's concerns as "hallucinations."
Pappas hopes to take his crusade to Washington but faces long odds, especially since he has yet to report any campaign contributions. A Republican hasn't won in this area since 1920, and registered Democrats outnumber Republicans roughly 6-to-1 in the district.
The Queens County Republican Party, which endorsed Pappas, did not respond to requests for comment.
A spokesperson for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez declined to comment on Pappas. Campaign manager Virginia Ramos Rios said they are not taking the general election for granted.