Longtime Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel is just days away from a competitive June 23 primary against progressive-backed challenger Jamaal Bowman.
Engel, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee,l has been in Congress since 1988, but just two years ago another veteran New York City Democrat, Rep. Joe Crowley, lost his seat to freshman progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Engel’s concern about the challenge was made clear when he was caught on a hot mic at a Black Lives Matter event saying, “If I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care” about being allowed to speak.
Who is Jamaal Bowman, the progressive newcomer causing the powerful Democrat to sweat the race for New York’s 16th district, encompassing Westchester and the Bronx?
Bowman made his name in his work for education.
Bowman, 44, has worked as a middle school principal in the Bronx for the past 10 years, and before that, he was a teacher in the borough. He made his name by working to found a public middle school called the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action.
“Before I started the public school, I was the dean of students for the High School of Arts and Technology. And my job was to monitor metal detectors as black and Latino kids came into the school,” Bowman recalled to WICZ. “So that’s what the school-to-prison pipeline looks like: when you’re treating children as if they already incarcerated.”
He said through that time he said he’s found Engel to be “incredibly absent and disengaged in most of the district.”
Engel has come under attack for spending more time at his home in Potomac, Md., than at his apartment in the Bronx.
He’s earned the endorsement of the nation’s most visible progressives.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have all endorsed Bowman’s run against Engel, along with the New York Times Editorial Board.
Engel, for his part, has earned the endorsement of Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina – the third-ranking Democrat in the chamber – as well as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California and fellow New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, as well as 2016 presidential contender Hillary Clinton. He also has maintained the backing of the Congressional Black Caucus’ political arm.
He supports the “Defund The Police” movement.
“We need to defund the police because we need to demilitarize our police,” Bowman recently told Democracy Now. “We need to stop sending federal military equipment to local police departments. And we need to focus on accountability and transparency. “We need to end qualified immunity at the federal level, where police can violate a person’s civil rights with impunity, which we’ve seen happening time and time again.”
He added that the divestments from police departments should be spent on community health and development.
“I’ve literally had the s— kicked out of me by cops,” Bowman told CNN last week. “And it happens to people of color, particularly black males, multiple times in their lives as well. And I’ve had cops throw me against the wall and scrape my face on the ground and hit me in the back with a night stick and stuff like that — and that happened when I was 11 years old.”
Both candidates have espoused policies of the new progressive left, but Bowman knocks Engel for his record, corporate donors
Both primary candidates have embraced the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. Both call for increased funding for public education and housing and comprehensive immigration reform. But Bowman has called out Engel for voting for the Iraq war, “deregulating Wall Street,” and “building more prisons.” Bowman’s campaign website says that less than 1 percent of Engel’s donations in 2018 came from “small dollar donors,” while Bowman said he hasn’t accepted a dime of corporate PAC money.