NY-16: Jamaal Bowman, the New AOC?

Democratic NY-16 candidate Jamaal Bowman political ad

By Jim Ellis

June 5, 2020 — In the New York City district adjacent to Alexandria Ocascio-Cortez’s Bronx-anchored congressional seat, a new candidate challenging another veteran Democratic congressman in an upcoming primary election is emerging into a political threat.

Late this week, Rep. Ocascio-Cortez endorsed Jamaal Bowman, a middle school principal who is opposing 16-term US Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx) for New York’s 16th District Democratic nomination.

Accompanying the AOC endorsement were pledges to spend $500,000 between now and the June 23 primary from her affiliated Justice Democrats Super PAC and the Working Families Party to support Bowman’s campaign to replace Rep. Engel. Additionally, another chief Democratic opponent, local NYC educator Andom Ghebreghiorgis, ended his campaign and endorsed Bowman.

Inadvertently providing more momentum to the Bowman campaign, Engel made a major mistake when he was picked up on video telling Bronx Borough president Ruben Diaz, Jr. that he needed to address the organized borough news conference about the George Floyd killing. When Diaz said he (Engel) wouldn’t be allowed to speak because none of the many elected officials attending the session would be addressing the media and audience, the congressman responded saying, “I wouldn’t care but I have a primary.”


Anti-Engel “I Have a Primary” ad

Engel’s words give support to his opponents’ claims that the congressman has lost touch with his district. Before, they cited news sources reporting that the veteran representative and chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee remained at his Maryland home throughout the entire coronavirus shut down despite his district and city becoming a hotbed of disease infection. In fact, reports surfaced that the disease’s New York region epicenter was traced to the city of New Rochelle, which is even in Rep. Engel’s own district.

Bowman and his supporters say that the congressman cares only about his job and not the welfare of his constituents. Unfortunately for Engel, his comments about speaking at the news conference, made during a private conversation but one that was filmed with a cell phone video camera, lends credence to his opponents’ characterizations.

At the March 31 campaign finance disclosure deadline, Engel was reporting a total of $1.3 million raised in the 2020 election cycle as compared to $540,000 for Bowman. Cash-on-hand figures in the late March disclosure report found the Congressman holding just over $1 million, while Bowman was carrying almost $217,000. Therefore, the $500,000 in outside money coming in to support his effort provides the Bowman campaign much more of a presence, at least in terms of running attack ads against Rep. Engel to help create a negative image of the congressman.

New York’s 16th District begins in the Bronx and travels north of the five boroughs to capture the city of Yonkers, and then darts east through Bronxville and into New Rochelle. Through redistricting during Engel’s three decades in Congress, the district has moved from a seat fully contained in New York City to the point where two-thirds of the constituency now resides in Westchester County.

In his 15 House re-election campaigns, Engel has seen only two primary challenges, one in 2012 (90 percent) and the other two years ago in 2018 (he received 74 percent).

Throughout his entire career, he has averaged 66.3 percent of the general election vote. Prior to his 32 years in Congress, Engel spent just under 12 years in the New York state Assembly. Together, he has served 44 consecutive years in elective office.

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