Former Bronx middle school principal Jamaal Bowman has beaten 16-term Congressman Eliot Engel in New York’s Democratic primary in another upset victory for the party’s progressive wing.
The Associated Press called the race Friday after obtaining an absentee vote count that showed Engel narrowly ahead among votes received by mail, but not by nearly the margin necessary to overcome Bowman’s primary day advantage. The AP’s call came after it obtained the absentee vote count from Westchester County. Votes cast by mail in the Bronx have yet to be released, but an AP analysis of absentee ballots counted so far indicated that Bowman’s lead from votes cast in person is too large for Engel to overcome.
Bowman won in a campaign season upended first by the coronavirus outbreak, then by protests over the death of George Floyd.
“I’m a Black man who was raised by a single mother in a housing project. 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 said in a statement. He said his campaign was anchored in the fight for racial and economic justice “and it resonated in every part of the district.”
A political novice who has never held public office, Bowman argued during his campaign that Engel, the 73-year-old chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, had lost touch with his economically and racially diverse district.
Engel inadvertently helped Bowman’s argument when in May an Atlantic reporter caught him in a lie about being in his district for a coronavirus-related event, when he was at his home in Maryland. Then, during a Bronx news conference about protests over police brutality, Engel was caught on an open microphone pleading to be allowed to address the crowd, saying, “If I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care.”
In defeating Engel, Bowman replicated the success of democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated another powerful New York City Democrat, Joe Crowley, in a neighboring congressional district two years ago.
Engel wished Bowman well in a statement released through a spokesman and said the district desperately needs resources from Washington “and we must continue to fight for them.”
The campaign was the latest proxy battle between the party’s progressive and pragmatic wings. Bowman was endorsed by Ocasio-Cortez and U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren while Engel picked up support from Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.
Bowman grew up in public housing in New York City. He was a teacher and school counselor for several years before becoming the founding principal of a Bronx middle school, the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action.
Candidates Chris Fink, Sammy Ravelo and Andom Ghebreghiorgis also appeared on the ballot, although Ghebreghiorgis withdrew from the race and endorsed Bowman.
The district is heavily Democratic, so the primary winner is virtually assured of victory in the general election in November.