Rep. Bowman Looks to Fend Off Stiff New York Primary Challenge

Westchester County Executive George Latimer is challenging the Squad member in a highly contentious primary race centered on the Israel-Hamas war.
Rep. Bowman Looks to Fend Off Stiff New York Primary Challenge
Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) greets campaign volunteers as he arrives for a "Get Out the Vote" campaign event at Hartley Park in Mount Vernon, N.Y., on June 24, 2024. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
Michael Washburn
Updated:
0:00
HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman is fighting for his political future this week in a highly contentious primary battle in New York’s 16th congressional district.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer is looking to unseat the two-term congressman in a race that has put the war in Gaza front and center.

The most recent FiveThirtyEight polling data gives Mr. Latimer a 17-point lead over Mr. Bowman. He could become the first Democrat to lose a primary this election season, which would also make him the first member of the Democrat’s progressive Squad to lose to a more moderate challenger.

Mr. Bowman’s seat, which covers northern Bronx and Westchester County, is solidly blue, so whoever wins the primary is likely to succeed in November.

The contest between Mr. Bowman and Westchester County Executive Latimer has drawn heightened attention in recent weeks. Mr. Bowman’s endorsers include Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Squad members Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and other prominent figures and grassroots progressive organizations. Meanwhile, one of the biggest names in Democrat politics, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has thrown her support behind the challenger, Mr. Latimer.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a major pro-Israel group, has bet big on the race. Its super PAC is throwing $14 million in ads to support Mr. Latimer, helping propel this race into the most expensive House race ever, according to ad tracker AdImpact.

Mr. Bowman has called attention to the role of the pro-Israel advocacy group and has criticized Mr. Latimer’s stance on other issues, such as gun violence and economic inequality. Mr. Bowman has also repeatedly claimed that racism plays a major part in opposition to his candidacy.

Mr. Latimer, meanwhile, has painted the congressman as “ineffective,” inflexibly committed to a radical agenda, and uninterested in representing the interests of the many District 16 constituents who support Israel.

The Middle East Tinderbox

Mr. Bowman won his party’s nomination in 2020, defeating 16-term incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel, and cruised to victory in the general election in November of that year, crushing GOP candidate Patrick McManus. After taking office in January 2021. Mr. Bowman earned a reputation as one of the most vocal members of The Squad, doubling down on a message of anti-racism and social justice.

But the progressive has drawn growing scrutiny over controversial comments against Israel and his strident pro-Palestinian stance since the start of the Gaza war. In the weeks after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel, the congressman called reports of Israeli women being sexually assaulted by Hamas “propaganda.” He has since apologized for those remarks.

Mr. Bowman also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge over pulling a fire alarm in a congressional building during a government funding vote in September. The House of Representatives voted to censure Rep. Bowman for the incident, which he maintains was an accident.

During the current primary race, concerns have arisen in his party that he is too far to the left on the issue of U.S.-Israeli relations and too hesitant to distance himself from pro-Palestinian sentiment to curry favor among Jewish voters in the northern Bronx and Westchester County.

“His radical approach is inconsistent with the people of White Plains, where I am a public official,” Justin Brasch, a Democratic member of the White Plains City Council, told The Epoch Times.

Mr. Bowman’s supporters, from grassroots activists to elected officials in the cities and towns of Westchester, describe him as an impassioned populist taking a bold stand on an array of issues, including climate change and economic justice.

Democratic candidate for New York's 16th District George Latimer speaks during a press conference at the Mount Vernon Democratic headquarters on June 24, 2024, in Mount Vernon, N.Y. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
Democratic candidate for New York's 16th District George Latimer speaks during a press conference at the Mount Vernon Democratic headquarters on June 24, 2024, in Mount Vernon, N.Y. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

In a June 19 televised debate, Mr. Bowman and Mr. Latimer exchanged numerous barbs and ratcheted up the rhetoric, each of them hoping to make a forceful impression in their last face-off before the June 25 primary.

The congressman took aim at his challenger for an alleged lack of concern about the epidemic of gun violence and its impact on largely minority communities. Mr. Latimer replied, “That’s ridiculous!” when challenged on this point.

Mr. Latimer painted Mr. Bowman as preoccupied with advancing a narrow, radical agenda.

Mr. Bowman has harshly criticized the AIPAC’s role in the race. At a rally at Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, on June 21, the congressman suggested that the racism was driving opponents to move against him.

AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann hit back at these claims.

“Our only criterion for supporting or opposing candidates is their position on the U.S.-Israel relationship. In fact, we support nearly half of the Congressional Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, and Progressive Caucus,” Mr. Wittmann told The Epoch Times in an email.

Bowman Rally

During the rally in Hastings-on-Hudson, supporters of the incumbent candidate expressed frustration with the centrality of Israel and the Middle East to a race they say should be about climate change, criminal justice reform, economic equality, and other issues on which Mr. Bowman has helped lead the progressive charge.

The town’s mayor, Nicola Armacost, delivered an address in which she urged members of the media in attendance to ask questions about topics other than the Middle East.

After the mayor finished, Mr. Bowman took the stage, delivering a wide-ranging address in which he explicitly denied the characterizations of his campaign as narrowly focused on issues of concern to one or two special interests, saying that he had united voters across racial, religious, sexual, and other lines.

Mr. Sanders then took the stage, prefacing his remarks by calling Hamas’s Oct. 7 actions a “war crime” and a “disgusting attack” on civilians going about their lives peacefully. But he hastened to add that the illegal Hamas attack did not justify the wide-scale bombings and other operations that Israel has taken in response.

Other supporters at the rally cited a range of issues on which they believe Mr. Bowman has shown effective leadership, contrary to Mr. Latimer’s characterizations.

“I’m a climate activist—that’s what’s near and dear to my heart,” attendee Miles Gorman, who said he had come to the rally from out of town, told The Epoch Times. He added that both Mr. Sanders and Mr. Bowman had proven effective on this issue.

“They’ve come to our aid; they’ve been spectacular allies,” Ms. Gorman said.

Local progressive activist Steven Siebert said he agreed with Mr. Bowman’s stance on criminal justice reform and, in particular, on the need for “restorative justice,” replacing the punitive approach with one that emphasizes reform, rehabilitation, and working to improve communities.

Mr. Siebert said he did not understand why more Republican Party constituents, who cite their faith as an essential component of their worldview, did not agree on a policy level with approaches and programs designed to reform and improve lives.

Mr. Bowman’s office did not respond by press time to a request for comment.

Michael Washburn is a New York-based reporter who covers U.S. and China-related topics for The Epoch Times. He has a background in legal and financial journalism, and also writes about arts and culture. Additionally, he is the host of the weekly podcast Reading the Globe. His books include “The Uprooted and Other Stories,” “When We're Grownups,” and “Stranger, Stranger.”