Insurgent Jamaal Bowman holds early lead over veteran Rep. Eliot Engel
“You know what Donald Trump is afraid of more than anything — a black man in power!” Bowman, 44, a former Bronx middle school principal, thundered.
“Tonight we don’t celebrate me. We celebrate a movement … I can’t wait to go to Congress and cause problems.”
He said he was ready to fight “sexism, racism, classism, xenophobia.”
While it was premature to call the race, the early returns rolling in were not a good sign for Engel, with Bowman up 61 percent to 39 percent with just 19 percent of the vote counted.
The Engel-Bowman primary symbolized the larger tug-of-war between the more moderate establishment wing of the Democratic Party versus the emerging progressive left-wing.
Engel was endorsed by the Democratic establishment, including Hillary Clinton, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Democratic Minority Leader Charles Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx). The latter two have districts that overlap with Engel’s 16th Congressional District that encompasses parts of the Bronx and Westchester.
Bowman, a progressive, was endorsed by fellow lefty firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Working Families Party, Justice Democrats, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and city Comptroller Scott Stringer.
Engel, 73, first elected in 1988, is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a staunch ally of Israel.
But he did himself no favors during the campaign, leading to brutal headlines.
It was first revealed in The Atlantic magazine that Engel failed to set foot in his district for nearly two months as it battled one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks in the country. He stayed at his residence in Maryland near D.C.
Engel then blundered when he returned to the district and attended a press conference in the Bronx.
In an event attended by local elected officials, he clumsily asked Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. on a hot mic if he could make some remarks.
When Diaz Jr. said there were too many people on the list, Engel mumbled through his face mask: “If I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care.”
“What was that?” Diaz Jr. asked him, according to the audio captured on a News 12 live feed of the event and shared on Twitter by NY1 reporter Emily Ngo.
“Don’t do that to me,” Diaz Jr. scolded him.
Bowman pounced on the gaffe, saying Engel “completely lost touch’” with the district during coronavirus crisis.
Late in the campaign, Engel slammed 44-year-old Bowman’s voting record and the performance of his students on state exams when he was principal of the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action. Bowman was formerly a member of the Independence Party and re-enrolled as a Democrat two years ago.
For his part, Engel said the race was not over. He was not about to concede until all mail-in votes were counted.
“With so many absentee ballots outstanding and many still coming in, we know that the full results of the primary won’t be known for some time,” the Engel campaign said in a statement.
“Congressman Engel is proud of his progressive record, and looks forward to the final tallies from the full Democratic electorate in the Bronx and Westchester. The bottom line for Congressman Engel is that every voter deserves to have their voice heard in our electoral system, and every primary ballot must be counted to ensure that happens. That includes the absentee ballots that only reached voters in the last day – they must be counted in every race.”