The 16th Congressional District of New York is a hodge-podge of black, Latino, white working-class and wealthy suburbs that Rep. Eliot Engel has represented since 1988. He is chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee and a reliably pro-Israel vote among the increasingly unreliable wishy-washy Democrats. He’s also been a strong, down-the-line liberal on every important issue facing the nation.
But alas, Mr. Eliot is, well, to put it delicately, the wrong color. And that alone might lead to his demise despite his record over 16 terms.
Congressional firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has joined with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to support Engel’s challenger, a middle school principal, Jamaal Bowman. Coming to the incumbent’s rescue is Hillary Clinton and other establishment Democrats. It’s the Democratic civil war in microcosm, as Brown, who happens to be black, looks to pull off an upset similar to AOC’s surprise primary win in 2018.
“We were unapologetic about that from the very beginning,” Bowman, a 44-year-old father of three and middle school principal, told NBC News in a phone interview. “Coming into the campaign, we felt that structural racism, institutional racism, institutional classism, institutional sexism and militarism are the evils that continue to plague American society generally.”
That’s why, in the days following Floyd’s death, Bowman joined protesters in Yonkers decrying police brutality and racial injustice.
“It’s great to be out here in Yonkers, it’s great to see this response,” he said in one video posted to his official YouTube page over vigorous chants of “I can’t breathe.”
It was serendipitous, indeed, for Brown to have made the focus of his campaign against Engel the very same issues being promoted by black activists. The incumbent has rarely been seriously challenged in the Democratic primary over the previous 32 years, but this is different. Powerful radicals have lined up against him and bring with them money and votes.
Eliot Engel talking about @AOC endorsement of his opponent at a candidate forum today:
"This is not a dictatorship. This is a democracy. We shouldn't have one person, from high, even though she's a colleague of mine, think that she can anoint whoever's elected." pic.twitter.com/PPvOU3ohfH
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) June 7, 2020
We may not be a dictatorship — yet — but if AOC gets here way, disagreement with her will become a crime.
“Once again, she has abandoned her colleagues in Congress and supported an outsider,” a Democratic source previously told Fox News. “Sadly, the people she supports often lose. That might be different here, but it has little to do with her. She came in in the ninth inning.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s support for Bowman puts her in direct opposition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who as a party leader backs incumbents when they face primary foes.
“He does a great job for New York and I wish him well on his election, as I wish her well on her election,” Pelosi said on Thursday when asked about Ocasio-Cortez’s opposition to Engel.
Engel doesn’t lack for support from the black community. He’s got the #3 Democrat in the House, Jim Clyburn, on his side as well as prominent New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. But the recent racial strife has put the race of candidates in the spotlight which might convince some Engel supporters to demonstrate their wokeness by voting for Bowman.
This is a safe Democratic seat so it doesn’t matter which candidate wins. But Republicans are so scared of Bowman that a Republican PAC, Americans for Tomorrow’s Future, is giving money indirectly to Engel’s race.
The PAC, presumably due to its visible Republican ties, is not spending directly in Engel’s New York primary. Instead, it funneled $100,000 to another super PAC, called Democratic Majority for Israel, on May 27. DMFI, a controversial operation inside the Democratic coalition, spent heavily against Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary, with help from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, The Intercept reported in February.
Being part of species of Democrat going extinct — a pro-Israel Democrat — Engel is getting rewarded for all those years of standing up for the Jews.
Ocasio-Cortez, Warren, and Sanders might pull off the upset this time. But in truth, the victory would go the rioters. It is they who established the atmosphere of hysteria that could see the election of another radical to Congress.