Campaigns

Group that backed AOC targeting longtime New York Rep. Eliot Engel

Public school educator Jamaal Bowman, 43, will challenge longtime House Democrat in 2020 primary

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y., will face educator Jamaal Bowman in a Democratic primary in 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Longtime New York Rep. Eliot L. Engel is getting a primary challenger who has support from the progressive group that backed New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her bid for office.

Jamaal Bowman, 43, a public school principal from the Bronx, announced Tuesday he is challenging Engel in the Democratic primary for New York’s 16th District, a longtime bastion for the party.

[Engel promises tough oversight of Trump's North Korea nuclear talks]

He was quickly endorsed by  Justice Democrats, a group targeting incumbent Democrats it feels do not represent their districts’ liberal tendencies.

In a press release Tuesday, Bowman hammered Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, for initially supporting the Iraq War, voting in favor of the 1994 crime bill and voting to deregulate investment and commercial banking in 1999.

“My opponent has been in office for over 30 years,” Bowman said in a statement. “Over those 30 years, my opponent voted for an unjust war in Iraq, deregulating Wall Street, school privatization, and building more prisons. While the very few at the top continue to build their wealth and power, the majority of us continue to struggle.”

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race for New York’s 16th District, which includes the Bronx and parts of southern Westchester County, Solid Democratic.

Whoever emerges from the Democratic primary will be the favorite to win the seat.

Hillary Clinton carried the district over President Donald Trump by 53 percentage points in the 2016 presidential election. In the 2018 primary, Engel beat three Democratic opponents to capture 73.7 percent of the vote and was unopposed in November.

Engel was first elected to the House in 1989 after serving the previous 10 years in the New York State Assembly, where he forged relationships with some of his current allies in Congress, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler.

He is a member of the New Democrat Coalition of self-described moderate Democrats who support a “pro-growth” agenda with a balanced federal budget.

Eliot Engel has done a very good job. I have a lot of faith in him,” Schumer told reporters Tuesday.

Bowman criticized Engel Tuesday for the lack of small-dollar donations to his campaign. Last cycle, Engel raised $1,070,258 from individuals who gave $200 or more, and received nearly $500,000 in PAC contributions. He raised $7,219 from individuals who gave less than $200 each.

Bowman has pledged to reject corporate PAC money and lobbyist contributions.

[‘No corporate PAC’ pledges aren’t always so pure]

Bowman’s is the second endorsement this week by by Justice Democrats, the group that supported Ocasio-Cortez in her successful 2018 primary against former Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley.

On Monday, the group announced it is backing immigration and human rights lawyer Jessica Cisneros in her bid to unseat longtime Rep. Henry Cuellar in Texas’ 28th District. 

“As someone who has built a public school from the ground up and served his community and students for many years, we are so honored to endorse Jamaal Bowman for Congress,” Alexandra Rojas, the executive director of Justice Democrats, said in a statement Tuesday. “Our grassroots movement shocked the country last year with AOC’s upset victory and we are prepared to do it again.”

Most of the candidates endorsed by the group lost their primaries in 2018.

Bowman is running on a platform of increased funding for public schooling, free access to higher education, Medicare for All, criminal justice reform, and the Green New Deal championed by Ocasio-Cortez.

“It’s time to build a new America that taps into its unlimited potential, a new America that leverages the brilliance of children and people from diverse backgrounds,” Bowman said in his launch video released Tuesday.

In a statement in February to the New York Times, Engel applauded the party for its “new energy” and the wave of young upstarts who won their general elections. But he warned that liberal organizers could be doing the party a “disservice by focusing on 2020 primaries when we have so much to do right now in Washington.” 

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