New York: Progressive unseats Democratic incumbent in House race

Jamaal Bowman has defeated 16-term incumbent Eliot Engel in the Democratic House primary.

Jamaal Bowman
First-time candidate Jamaal Bowman has defeated 16-term Democratic House incumbent Eliot Engel in a primary race [Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/The Associated Press]

New York progressive candidate Jamaal Bowman has defeated 16-term incumbent Representative Eliot Engel in the state’s Democratic primary.

The victory is considered a major win for the progressive movement, which has grown steadily in the United States. Bowman, a former middle school principal from Yonkers, was supported by Alexandria Ocasio-Ortez, who unseated a longtime Democratic establishment incumbent in 2018 to win her House seat.

He was also endorsed by prominent Senators and former Democratic presidential contenders Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who both ran on progressive platforms.

Engel, who first-time candidate Bowman defeated, is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“I’m a Black man who was raised by a single mother in a housing project. That story doesn’t usually end in Congress,” Bowman wrote on Twitter on Friday.

“But today, that 11-year old boy who was beaten by police is about to be your next Representative.”

The New York Times and The Associated Press news agency called the victory more than three weeks after the primary election. Election officials have since been counting votes sent by mail.

The contest is considered the latest upset in a proxy battle between the party’s progressive and more establishment wings, with Engel earning the support of more centrist Democratic figures former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Chuck Schumer.

Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for the progressive political action committee, tweeted Bowman was the fourth candidate backed by the group to “unseat a congressional incumbent from the left”.

Coronavirus and race

While the coronavirus pandemic had prevented either candidate from traditional campaigning, Bowman had criticised Engel for staying at his home in Maryland as the pandemic turned his district in the Bronx and suburban Westchester County into one of the hardest-hit areas in the region.

Engel had said he was working on behalf of the district from Washington.

The longtime incumbent later committed a notable gaffe while appealing for peace at an event in the Bronx as protests broke out across the country following the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Speaking with the event’s organiser, he was caught on a live mic saying: “If I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care.”

Engel later said the comments had been taken out of context, but Bowman, who has spoken of his own experiences with police brutality, said they illustrated why the district needed new leadership.

As the district is heavily Democratic, the primary winner is virtually assured victory in the general election in November.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies