Jamaal Bowman: Newcomer Politician Shakes Up New York’s Status Quo

Jamaal Bowman speaks at a surveillance party while taking an early lead in New York's Democratic primariesImage copyright

A political newcomer in New York has sent a shock wave through the establishment of the Democratic Party by declaring victory over a 31-year-old incumbent.

Jamaal Bowman, 44, a former Bronx school principal, has a solid lead over Eliot Engel in District 16.

His campaign compares to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprising victory in a neighboring New York congressional district two years ago.

Final results may take weeks, but Bowman’s leadership seems insurmountable.

Tuesday’s primaries tested the influence of the Democratic left at a time when the party’s standard-bearer for the November presidential election is a moderate, Joe Biden.

As of Wednesday, Bowman had captured 60.7% of the vote, compared to Engel’s 34.7%, according to preliminary figures from the state board of elections.

In New York’s liberal district, whoever wins the primaries is almost certain to beat their Republican opponent in the fall general election.

“I’m a black man raised by a single mother on a housing project. That story usually doesn’t end in Congress,” Bowman, 44, tweeted Wednesday.

“But today, that 11-year-old boy beaten by the police is about to be his representative.

“I can’t wait to get to DC and cause trouble for those who maintain the status quo.”

But Engel, who is chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, did not admit, as his campaign cites a record number of absentee ballots not yet counted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bowman ran on a racial justice platform, calling for the elimination of law enforcement, an idea that party moderates consider too radical this election season.

He won the endorsement of beloved progressives Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Mrs. Ocasio-Cortez.

Engel, a 16-term congressman, was backed by Hillary Clinton, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, and the Black Caucus of Congress.

Engel, 73, did not help himself when he was heard in early June by a microphone at a press conference dedicated to Black Lives Matter saying that he had only appeared because of his impending election.

“If I didn’t have a primary,” he said, “I wouldn’t mind.”

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez on Tuesday ruled out a challenge in her New York City district from former CNBC television presenter Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, 53.

Mrs. Ocasio-Cortez accumulated around 70% of the votes. Her opponent, who was backed by the conservative-leaning American chamber of commerce, won less than 20%.

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The liberal star was a 28-year-old former waitress when she caused a political earthquake two years ago by defeating Joe Crowley, a House Democrat who had occupied District 14 for two decades.

It was a gratifying night for at least one other black progressive after a primary campaign waged amid protests against racism stemming from the police murder of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, last month.

In central Virginia, Cameron Webb decisively beat three white opponents in the primaries for a seat in the United States House that Democrats hope to win from the Republicans. He would be the first African-American doctor in Congress if he was elected in November.

Meanwhile in Kentucky, another black progressive, Charles Booker, hopes to beat Amy McGrath, the establishment’s favorite, to become the Democratic candidate for the Senate.

The well-funded Mrs. McGrath had an advantage over Mr. Booker in the first results, but hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots are outstanding and the final results will not be known until next week at the earliest.