Election 2020: Eliot Engel under pressure in congressional primary
The House Foreign Affairs Committee is facing what may be his most serious challenge in years.
It may have seemed like a long shot when Jamaal Bowman launched a primary campaign against 16-term Rep. Eliot Engel last year.
But he’s heading toward election day with an endorsement from The New York Times and the backing of liberal icons like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The coronavirus pandemic and ongoing social unrest brought on by the killing of George Floyd while in the hands of Minneapolis police has reshaped campaigns, but Bowman said it has also magnified his progressive agenda, including the fight against institutional racism and economic inequality.
Bowman, 44, a Yonkers resident and middle school teacher who is Black, said he had his first run-in with police at age 11 when he and some friends were “slapped around” and thrown against a wall because of the color of their skin.
Throughout the campaign he’s painted Engel as out of touch with the needs of the district, which includes part of the Bronx and Westchester County. Engel rode out much of the coronavirus shutdown in his 真人百家家乐官网网站home in Maryland outside of Washington, D.C., and not in the district which was an epicenter of the outbreak.
“While he’s absent, I am here, present and engaged,” Bowman said in a recent interview. “We need leadership that’s going to be here who understands the pain the people are going through and is fighting to uplift their needs first and foremost. Eliot Engel has never been that leader.”
Engel has been slapped with criticism from challengers in the past but emerged unscathed. Two years ago, he faced three primary challengers and ended up with more votes than all three of them combined.
This time around, an increasingly polarized political climate and the success of progressives like AOC have made this seem like one of Engel’s most serious primary challenges in years. Bowman has gotten the most attention, but he’s one of four challengers that are on the ballot for the June 23 race – although one of them, Andom Ghebreghiorgis, has dropped out and endorsed Bowman.
Engel, 73, of the Bronx, first took office in 1989 and is today the chair of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee. New York’s 16th congressional district is reliably blue, so the Democratic primary is considered the main event.
"I am running on my record of accomplishment and experience,” Engel said. “From fighting for a woman's right to choose to the battle for gun safety laws, I've been working on the legislative front lines working for our communities.”
He said that experience has led to extra funding for hospitals in the district and co-sponsoring with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders to co-sponsor a law enforcement bill called the George Floyd Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act.
He’s not only being challenged from the left, but by candidates identifying as more moderate. Both have contended not only with going up against a longstanding incumbent but fought against the narrative in some news coverage that it’s a two-person race with Bowman receiving much attention.
Chris Fink, 61, a tax attorney from Pelham, painted Engel as an absentee congressman who hasn’t passed much legislation. He also called Bowman a puppet of the Justice Democrats, the group backing him that also helped AOC unseat longtime Rep. Joe Crowley in a 2018 Democratic primary.
Fink said he believes voters in the district will do their 真人百家家乐官网网站homework and find he has outlined tangible plans where Engel and Bowman haven’t. He said he is in the race to win even though he’s being out-fundraised and outspent by both Engel and Bowman.
He said he got into the race because Engel’s focus has been largely on international issues.
“It felt like he was neglecting our district and the needs of our district,” Fink said. “As I talked to more and more people, they said ‘yeah, we don’t see him. Our roads and bridges and schools are falling apart.'”
New Rochelle resident Sammy Ravelo, who was born in the Dominican Republic, said he would be a voice for the underrepresented Hispanic residents who make up more than a quarter of residents of the district.
Ravelo, 50, served in the Navy and is a retired NYPD officer, and said he doesn’t agree with factions of the party that have taken a strong anti-police stance even though he agrees there is opportunity for reform.
Extreme progressives are pushing the party to the left much like the Republican Party was reshaped in the last two decades, he said.
“They’re the version of the tea party on our side, the Democratic side. If you disagree with them on one thing that’s it, you’re somehow a Democratic in name only and I don’t side with that.”
Here's a look at fundraising and spending through June 3, according to the latest Federal Election Commission filings:
- Raised this election cycle: $2,000,443.74
- Spent through June 3: $1,371,186.98
- Cash on hand: $826,284.24
- Raised this election cycle: $971,209.13
- Spent through June 3: $626,199.24
- Cash on hand: $345,009.89
- Raised this election cycle: $149,573.00
- Spent through June 3: $130,204.19
- Cash on hand: $32,965.81
- Raised this election cycle: $48,435.45
- Spent through June 3: $44,926.96
- Cash on hand: $3,508.49
Mark Lungariello covers government and politics. Follow him on Facebook @lungariello and Twitter @marklungariello. For our latest subscription offers click here.