Joe Crowley, the congressman who lost in a stunning primary upset to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez last year, will step down from his role as chairman of the Queens Democratic Party, Queens Democrats confirmed Tuesday night. The move came after Squire Patton Boggs, one of the largest lobbying firms in Washington D.C., announced Crowley as their new hire earlier that day.

For a brief moment on Tuesday, it appeared Crowley would remain as county leader while going to potentially lobby on behalf of some of America’s largest corporations, like Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble and UnitedHealth. This would not be unprecedented in New York City politics: the leader of the Manhattan Democratic Party, former Assemblyman Keith Wright, directs governmental relations for Davidoff, Hutcher & Citron, one of New York’s most well-connected lobbying firms.

Wright’s decision to lead the Manhattan Democrats, where he can play a role in picking judges and setting the agenda for the party, while working for a lobbying firm drew scathing condemnations from good government groups and reformers in the party. Wright, unlike Crowley, was undeterred by the criticism. (Wright did not return a request for comment, neither did Crowley.)

Throughout Tuesday, progressive members of Queens’ county committee were calling on Crowley to resign. “We can’t even pretend this charade is any kind of democracy,” Erica Manney, a county committee member from Oakland Gardens, told Gothamist.

It’s unclear whether Crowley was motivated by these calls at all or he decided it simply didn’t make sense for him to lead the Queens Democrats while working as a lobbyist and no longer representing the borough. “It’s the right choice for my life,” Crowley told the Daily News.

Crowley lives in Virginia, and the move to K Street, following his loss to Ocasio-Cortez last June, was long anticipated. Still, he was re-elected county leader in September.

In the short term, there will be no seismic political changes in Queens. June Bunch, a party loyalist, will be the interim chair until a new county leader is selected by the borough’s 72 Democratic district leaders. (Several posts are vacant.)

Gregory Meeks, a Democratic congressman, is already vying to replace Crowley. Meeks, who has been embroiled in various ethics scandals, has long been a power broker in heavily African-American Southeast Queens, which has traditionally been where the most Democrats show up to vote in the borough. Another Southeast Queens politician, State Senator Leroy Comrie, has also been floated, as well as newly-elected State Senate John Liu. (Congresswoman Grace Meng was mentioned as a contender in a news report but can’t seek the post because she isn’t a Democratic district leader.)

All would be the first person who isn’t white to lead the Queens Democrats. Crowley was the handpicked successor of Tom Manton, the powerful Queens congressman who died in 2006.

While the Queens machine faced a humiliating defeat at the hands of Ocasio-Cortez, it has quietly chugged on. Gerard Sweeney, Frank Bolz and Reich, the three attorneys who live on Long Island but have effectively run the party apparatus for over 30 years, are still in charge. An overwhelming number of district leaders, the unpaid elected officials who choose the county leader, remain loyal to the three attorneys, who make millions in Surrogate’s Court and off home foreclosures.

Court records show that while the firm’s foreclosure work has tapered off in recent years, Sweeney continues to rake in Surrogate’s Court cash at a startling rate. Since Ocasio-Cortez’s victory last June, he has collected at least $1 million in fees. The staggering sum mostly came from cases that began before June but the fees were approved afterwards, each time by Peter Kelly, the Surrogate’s Court judge. Kelly is the brother of Ann Anzalone, Crowley’s former chief of staff and a Democratic district leader.

For the Queens machine, retaining control over the borough’s judicial system has been a top priority. Civil court and State Supreme court judges are still only elected with the blessing of the three men, especially Sweeney, who specializes in processing the estates of those who die without wills. Ocasio-Cortez, at least so far, has not altered this reality.

The Queens Democratic Party faces another test in June. The machine has thrown what weight it has left behind Melinda Katz, the Queens borough president, for the open district attorney’s post. Katz said earlier this month she was “honored” to have their backing.

As of January 13th, Katz has raised a million dollars, with the help of some cash transfers from prior accounts, and is emerging as a clear front-runner. A major union, the Hotel and Motel Trades Council, is in her corner, as well as Meeks and most of the African-American elected officials in vote-rich Southeast Queens.

Why does this matter? The retiring district attorney, Richard Brown, rarely pursued political corruption cases in the borough, leaving machine elected officials virtually untouched. His office could be a source of patronage. And judges Crowley helped elect would often share familial ties with assistant district attorneys in Brown’s office.

Party insiders still have relationships to trade on. Queens Democratic sources say they lobbied the Democratic state legislature, particularly the Assembly, to ensure the state primary was moved up to June this year instead of 2020, when it would be consolidated with the federal primary. A June date is beneficial to Katz or Rory Lancman, a well-funded Queens councilman and fellow party loyalist, and gives less time for insurgents, especially the Democratic Socialist of America-supported Tiffany Cabán, to lay the groundwork for a campaign.

Allies of Ocasio-Cortez may be getting ready to strike back. Veterans of her campaign have founded an organization called Movement School to train people to run for office and organize with a focus on impacting local elections. One goal will be to target entrenched elected officials who, like Crowley, have not faced challenges in many years, if ever. Another will be to infiltrate the party apparatus, electing more progressives to county committee or even deposing the district leaders who elect the county leader.

What direct role Ocasio-Cortez will play remains unclear. A spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment. Early targets could be Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, a Long Island City lawmaker who backed the Amazon deal, and Assemblyman Michael DenDekker, a white man representing a majority Latino district in Jackson Heights.

Unlike Brooklyn, Queens does not have a decades-long, reform-oriented tradition, though the movement has undoubtedly gained strength after Ocasio-Cortez’s win. An anti-machine political club, New Queens Democrats, has added members and some clout. County committee members, especially those elected this past September, are strategizing about what to do next.

“I don’t want people to fixate on one guy,” said Radha Vatsal, a novelist and newly-elected county committee member. “The whole system needs reform...it’s undemocratic, inaccessible, and not inclusive.”

Ross Barkan is a political journalist who recently tried his hand at politics: last year he lost the Democratic primary for State Senate in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Read more about his run here.