O’rourke, once adrift in New York, is searching again
All at once, New York City seemed to be conspiring against Beto O’rourke.
His girlfriend was moving to France. His punk bandmates had scattered. Twenty-three and searching — with an Ivy League degree that could not pay rent — O’rourke subsisted as a live-in nanny on the Upper West Side, with a futon in the maid’s quarters, watching over a wealthy family’s two preschoolers.
“I just remember his dad coming,” said the former girlfriend, Sasha Watson, recalling a pep talk from Pat O’rourke, a prominent Texas county commissioner and judge, who insisted his son was destined for “bigger things.”
“He really saw great things for Beto.”
Great things were not happening. By late 1995, O’rourke had fallen into the deepest depression he can remember. He worked for an uncle’s tech business because it was a job. He spent nights alone listening to his cassettes because it passed the time.
“Little bit of a sad case,” O’rourke said.
More than two decades later, long after what friends describe as a quarter-life crisis, O’rourke has arrived at a midlife crossroads of enormous consequence, with revealing parallels to his time in New York. Forty-six and searching — after a narrow Senate loss in Texas last year that propelled the former El Paso congressman to Democratic stardom — he has been driving around the country, alone, introducing himself to strangers, deciding if he wants to run for president.
He has described himself as “stuck,” in and out of a “funk.” He has compared the present reckoning to moments of rootlessness in the city, when he last found himself out of work.
“I just didn’t ever want to feel like that or be in that place or that position again,” O’rourke said in an hourlong phone interview. “So that lately has felt kind of strange, maybe with some echoes.”
Early polls and prospective opponents agree that O’rourke, with his message of generational change and liberal-for-texas politics, would enter the race as a top-tier contender, buoyed by a national network of small-dollar donors and an instinct for uplift and social media ubiquity.
Well before his return last week to his former city — for an interview Tuesday with Oprah Winfrey in Times Square, heightening 2020 expectations —
Rep. Beto O’rourke, D-texas, concedes the Senate race to Sen. Ted Cruz, on election night in El Paso. O’rourke’s seven New York years — four at Columbia University and three after graduation — were, in his own telling, an exercise in recognizing his own averageness. But the city also supplied a proving ground for the kind of personal appeal that would power his political ascent.