Bronx Principal to Challenge Eliot Engel, Powerful House Democrat, From the Left

Bronx Principal to Challenge Eliot Engel, Powerful House Democrat, From the Left


WASHINGTON — Jamaal Bowman, a middle school principal from the Bronx, will announce on Tuesday his plans to challenge Representative Eliot L. Engel, the New York Democrat who leads the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee, in the 2020 race.

The contest could serve as a key test of whether liberal insurgent groups can convert a surge of energy on the left into successful challenges of members of the Democratic Party establishment. Mr. Bowman becomes the second liberal challenger to Mr. Engel this year, but the first New York primary candidate to be endorsed by Justice Democrats, the grass-roots group that helped fuel Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning defeat last year of Joseph Crowley of New York, the No. 4 Democrat in the House at the time.

“I’m inspired by all of the new lifestyles injected into Congress and the new ideas,” said Mr. Bowman, who will run against Mr. Engel, a 16-term incumbent who serves New York’s 16th Congressional District, and Andom Ghebreghiorgis, a teacher who, like Mr. Bowman, has vowed to pursue progressive policies, including “Medicare for all,” the Green New Deal and changes to public education.

“I’ve been in education now for 20 years, spending most of my years in the Bronx, working with families who are struggling are in many different areas from poverty, health care, mental health issues, asthma from pollution and so on,” said Mr. Bowman, who helped found the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action in New York. “Many of their struggles come from policy that begins in Washington.”

Mr. Bowman plans to emphasize Mr. Engel’s support for the Iraq war and acceptance of donations from lobbyists and political action committees in making his case that Mr. Engel is too moderate for New York’s diversifying 16th District, which includes parts of the Bronx and Westchester County and is overwhelmingly Democratic.

In a statement this year, Mr. Engel had praised the party’s “new energy.” But, he added, “I think we’re doing the people we represent and the country a disservice by focusing on 2020 primaries when we have so much to do right now in Washington.”

Members of Justice Democrats — who have worked for months to prepare both Mr. Bowman and Jessica Cisneros, who is challenging Representative Henry Cuellar, Democrat of Texas — are quick to draw parallels between Mr. Crowley and Mr. Engel.

“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,” said Alexandra Rojas, the organization’s executive director. “Our grass-roots movement shocked the country last year with A.O.C.’s upset victory, and we are prepared to do it again in New York’s 16th District.”

Mr. Engel, whose more than 30 years in Congress began after he unseated a popular incumbent, is one of the most powerful incumbents in the Democratic House majority facing a primary election challenger. In 2018, Mr. Engel defeated three of them, with nearly 74 percent of the vote.

The campaign arm for House Democrats, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has vowed to defend incumbents, brushing off the ire of liberal Democrats as it broke ties with pollsters and political consultants who work for primary challengers.



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