Jul 17, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Jamaal Bowman unseats veteran Rep. Eliot Engel in New York primary

Jamaal Bowman. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Jamaal Bowman. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Progressive challenger Jamaal Bowman has defeated House Foreign Affairs Chair Eliot Engel in New York's 16th congressional district's Democratic primary, which took place on June 23, according to an AP call of the race on Friday.

Why it matters: It's the biggest upset of the 2020 House primary cycle thus far.

  • Engel, a 16-term incumbent who served as one of the committee chairs that led the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, had been endorsed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Hillary Clinton — her first House primary endorsement of 2020.
  • Bowman, a middle school principal, had received endorsements from the country's most-high profile progressive organizations and lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Between the lines: Bowman's ascension is similar to that of Ocasio-Cortez, who won a major primary upset in 2018 by defeating 10-term incumbent Rep. Joseph Crowley, a member of the House Democratic caucus' leadership.

  • Engel in recent months had made a series of public blunders, including getting caught lying about returning to his home district in New York during the heat of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Engel was also caught on a hot mic asking to speak at a press conference about mass protests and civil unrest, saying: "If I didn't have a primary, I wouldn't care."
  • His hawkish foreign policy positions, including his vote for the Iraq War, opposition to the Iran deal, and outspoken support for Israel, had made him an enemy of progressives.

What they're saying: In a speech claiming victory last month, Bowman attacked billionaires like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for increasing their wealth by "tens of billions of dollars" as tens of thousands of Americans died of the coronavirus. "If that doesn't capture how rotten. our system is, I don't know what does," he said.

"The results show that this district is demanding change. This is what this district has been waiting for, this is what this country has been waiting for and we are all here now together. So I am excited, I am happy, I am fired up. I can't wait to get to Congress and cause problems for the people in there who have been maintaining a status quo that is literally killing our children."

Bowman also spoke to Axios' Alexi McCammond last month about how his personal experiences with police brutality would help inform legislation concerning that issue.

  • "Personal experience is the most powerful experience. You approach the experience with a certain level of empathy and compassion, and we need more of that when we write policy. This is not a zero sum game," Bowman said.
  • "We have to create a democracy that works for everyone. And it allows me to have empathy with other communities who have suffered from oppression in any form. It’s empathy across the board and we have to center our collective humanity as we go forward."
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