Progressive challenger Bowman knocks off incumbent Engel in New York Democratic primary

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Christopher Wilson
·Senior Writer
·4 min read
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The three-decade tenure of New York Rep. Eliot Engel is set to end after losing the Democratic primary to progressive challenger Jamaal Bowman.

Bowman, 44, earned the endorsement of a number of progressive leaders in the party, including Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. He was also backed by Justice Democrats, the influential left-wing group whose other endorsees include Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley. Bowman was also endorsed by the New York Times editorial board.

Jamaal Bowman speaks at a watch party as he takes an early lead in the democratic primary for New York's 16th Congressional District in Yonkers, New York, U.S., June 23, 2020. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
Jamaal Bowman speaks at a watch party on June 23 as he takes an early lead in the Democratic primary in New York's 16th Congressional District. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

“I’m a Black man who was raised by a single mother in a housing project,” said Bowman on Friday after the Associated Press officially called the June 23 race. “That story doesn’t usually end in Congress. But today, that 11-year-old boy who was beaten by police is about to be your next representative.”

Bowman had a sizable lead on Election Day, but due to a large number of absentee ballots that needed to be counted, the AP did not call the race until Friday. He noted his campaign saw a surge in interest and donations amid the widespread demonstrations against police violence leading into the last days of voting.

“From the very beginning, we anchored our campaign in the fight for racial and economic justice,” said Bowman on Friday. “We spoke the truth — about the police, about systemic racism, about inequality — and it resonated in every part of the district.”

The 16th District, which includes parts of the Bronx and Westchester, is a majority-minority area. Public polling in the race had been scarce, but one late survey showed Bowman, a middle school principal, with a 10-point lead in the heavily Democratic district.

Engel, 73, won his first congressional election in 1988. After Democratic gains in the 2018 midterms, he became chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

In this Dec. 17, 2019, file photo House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., talks to reporters as before he meets with fellow House Democrats at the Capitol in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)
In this Dec. 17, 2019, file photo, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel talks to reporters at the Capitol. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

His loss is the second time in as many primaries that a high-ranking New York Democrat has lost a primary to a progressive challenger, following Ocasio-Cortez’s defeat of Joe Crowley in 2018. Engel was also criticized for quarantining in Washington, D.C., instead of staying in his district, which was hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

As Bowman gained momentum, Engel started to stumble, including being caught on a hot mic at an event with other local officials discussing the George Floyd protests saying, “If I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care.”

Engel was also critical of Ocasio-Cortez and her endorsement of Bowman. “This is not a dictatorship. This is a democracy. We shouldn’t have one person, from high, even though she’s a colleague of mine, think that she can anoint whoever’s elected,” he said earlier this month.

Ocasio-Cortez, who has quickly become one of the most prominent Democrats in the country, has endorsed a number of candidates in races across the nation this cycle. She easily survived her first primary challenge, defeating former CNBC anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera by more than 40 points.

Engel had earned his share of high-profile support as well, including the first 2020 House primary endorsement from former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who resides in Westchester. Engel also had the backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Whip James Clyburn, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Congressional Black Caucus.

Meanwhile, in the race to replace retiring Rep. Nita Lowey north of the city, progressive favorite Mondaire Jones, a 33-year-old attorney, was victorious in a crowded field.

Progressive challengers to incumbent Democrats have had a mixed record so far this cycle. Marie Newman knocked off Rep. Dan Lipinski, one of the last remaining conservative Democrats in Congress, in Illinois this past March. But high-profile challenges to Reps. Joyce Beatty of Ohio and Henry Cuellar of Texas were both unsuccessful earlier this year.

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