Jamaal Bowman, a progressive middle school teacher in the Bronx who has strong ties to his district’s voters, opened up a sizable lead on Tuesday evening against incumbent House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) in New York’s Democratic primary in the 16th Congressional District.
With 82 percent reporting, Bowman had 21,433 votes (60.9%) to Engel’s 12,532 (35.6%). Engel’s campaign reportedly said the election will not be called until next week, when absentee ballots that are postmarked by June 24 will be counted, because there are “so many absentee ballots outstanding.”
Addressing his supporters on Tuesday evening, Bowman said he is “fired up,” if the results hold, to go to Congress and “cause problems” while holding President Donald Trump accountable.
“Trump is more afraid of a Black man with power more than anything else,” Bowman said. “So if the results continue to bear out… and we get to Congress, it will be our job to hold Donald Trump accountable and to hold every elected official accountable that continues to be beholden to corporate interests, that continues to be beholden to the wealthy, and that is not fighting for the poor and that is not fighting for the working class in this country.”
Bowman talked about growing up as a black man in a single-parent household in the housing projects during the crack cocaine epidemic, and he said he is “pushing back against a system that is literally killing us,” adding that “so many people have lost faith” in the “political system” and each other.
"Poverty is by political design, and it's rooted in a system that has been fractured, and corrupt, and rotten from it's from core from the inception of America." @JamaalBowman #NY16 pic.twitter.com/cxWCPVTptu
— People for Bernie (@People4Bernie) June 24, 2020
Bowman’s strong election night comes two years after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez arrived on the national scene after she shockingly won her primary against incumbent Democrat Joe Crowley, the then-fourth-ranking Democrat who had been in Congress since 1999.
Progressive groups like the Justice Democrats–the activist organization that has been strongly associated with Ocasio-Cortez and boosted Bowman with grassroots organizational support during the coronavirus pandemic–backed Bowman early against Engel, an ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) whom progressive activists have long seen as a corporatist Democrat who has been out of touch with the politics of his district.
Engel, who has been in Congress since 1989, made what was most likely a fatal unforced error when, after he was criticized for not being on the ground in his district during the coronavirus crisis, was caught on video at a press conference addressing the George Floyd protests saying: “If I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care.”
Bowman immediately responded, saying it was “incredibly painful to watch” Engel’s out-of-touch Kinsley gaffe.
“It hurts,” Bowman said then. “We need to be taking care of our communities right now — whether it’s election season or not.”
Diaz responds, "Don't do that to me."
— Emily Ngo (@emilyngo) June 2, 2020
In the days leading up to the election, the establishment rushed in to back Engel.
Hillary Clinton, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), the Congressional Black Caucus, Pelosi, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), and House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) endorsed Engel.
Progressives like Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) backed Bowman.
Bowman said his district is demanding change” and even took a parting shot at Amazon’s Jeff Bezos on Tuesday evening, saying Bezos and other billionaires who have only seen their wealth increase during the coronavirus pandemic represent everything that is wrong with country’s economic system.
“During this coronavirus pandemic, while over a 110,000 people have died, Jeff Bezos and other billionaires have increased their wealth buy tens of billions of dollars,” Bowman said. And it that doesn’t capture how rotten our system is, I don’t know what does.”