Latimer ousts ‘Squad’ member Bowman in Democratic primary in New York

Westchester County Executive George Latimer resoundingly defeated Rep. Jamaal Bowman in the Democratic primary for New York’s 16th Congressional District on Tuesday night, according to an Associated Press projection, ousting a member of the far-left faction of his own party after a blistering contest that divided the candidates on race, class and the Middle East conflict and cost more than any House primary in history.

Latimer stressed unity in remarks after his victory, telling a crowd of his supporters, “this country cannot afford to splinter into little pieces.”

“Let me try to do what I can do to bring some positive results,” he said. “I have never viewed an election as a blank check from you to me. It is a promissory note from me to you.”

Latimer benefited from his own incumbency, building on deep roots in the community after decades spent in local politics. He was also aided by massive spending against Bowman, mostly by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s super PAC, which aims to unseat lawmakers it deems unsupportive of Israel. Total outside spending in the race neared $25 million.

Bowman and his allies railed against the money that special interests spent to take him out, accusing Latimer and his supporters of targeting an outspoken Black member of Congress and calling the heavy spending a threat to democracy. Bowman also slammed Latimer for being backed by wealthy voters in Westchester County, which makes up most of the 16th District, and said Latimer could not understand the needs of poorer constituents in and around the Bronx, a largely Black borough of New York City, where Bowman was a middle school principal before running for office.

Speaking to his supporters after his loss, Bowman said they should be “outraged” that a super PAC could spend millions to “brainwash people.”

Bowman is the first incumbent to lose a primary to a nonincumbent this year. His defeat represents a major blow to the most liberal contingent of the House Democratic caucus, which has grown its ranks in recent years. The bitter primary resurrected old rivalries between the party establishment and the far left, with Hillary Clinton endorsing Latimer and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) backing Bowman. It raised issues around age and race. Latimer is a 70-year-old White man and Bowman is a 48-year-old Black man. And it exposed deep rifts in the party over ideology, especially the war in the Middle East.

The candidates’ conflicting reactions to the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel and Israel’s military retaliation in Gaza became a central theme of the race. Bowman, who has long been critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, angered some Jewish constituents when, in the immediate aftermath of the Oct. 7 massacre, he called for a cease-fire and accused Israel of genocide. He was one of only nine Democrats to vote against a resolution weeks later avowing support for Israel and condemning Hamas because he said it didn’t mention Palestinians’ hardships.

Westchester County is home to one of the nation’s densest populations of Jewish residents. Local and national pro-Israel groups urged Latimer to challenge Bowman. Latimer said he had considered running before Oct. 7 but that the congressman’s response to the attack and a visit by Latimer to Israel in November solidified his decision to launch his candidacy.

AIPAC’s super PAC, United Democracy Project, spent more than $14 million on ads in the race — one pro-Latimer and three anti-Bowman — the most it has ever spent on one contest, according to Patrick Dorton, a UDP spokesman. None of the ads mentioned Israel, instead focusing on Bowman’s legislative record.

Bowman’s critics say his behavior in Congress ultimately cost him his seat. Bowman pulled a fire alarm in a House office building last year, forcing an evacuation. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge, and the House formally censured him. Latimer attacked Bowman as a showboat who cared more about building a national profile on the far left than his district. He often pointed to Bowman’s vote against an infrastructure bill, one of President Biden’s biggest legislative achievements. Bowman has said he voted against it because it did not include liberal social spending priorities such as increased funding for child care.

The congressman expressed frustration during the campaign that so little of his work on issues such as curbing gun violence got attention. Bowman’s fiery rhetoric often made headlines, including at a rally on Saturday when he forcefully denounced AIPAC and bellowed, “We are gonna show f–king AIPAC the power of the motherf–king South Bronx.” (The South Bronx is not in his district.)

Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), who does represent the South Bronx, ripped Bowman’s use of profanity as an “unhinged tirade,” writing on X that it was “unbecoming of a Member of Congress.”

The bitter matchup got nastier in the final weeks. Bowman characterized some of Latimer’s comments as racist after Latimer suggested that Bowman had an “ethnic benefit” in the district, which is nearly half Black and Hispanic voters, and referred to Bowman as having a constituency in Dearborn, Mich. — a majority Muslim city. Bowman and his allies attacked Latimer as being backed by MAGA Republicans because many of AIPAC’s donors also donate to GOP candidates and causes. Latimer also benefited from efforts by a local group to persuade Republicans and independents to register as Democrats so they could vote for Latimer in the primary.

When Bowman beat longtime incumbent Rep. Eliot L. Engel in 2020, the district included more of the Bronx and was a majority-minority district. After the racial justice protests over George Floyd’s murder that summer, Bowman pitched himself as more attuned to the needs of the district. But, ahead of the 2022 election, the congressional map was redrawn, and the district became more suburban, reaching deeper into Westchester County and losing some of the Bronx. Bowman found himself far to the left of his more centrist district.

Latimer’s advantage in the race came from years of forming relationships in the community, his backers say. Over his long political career, he’s had the support of African American leaders and was backed in previous elections by the Working Families Party, which endorsed Bowman in this race. People in the community know him for always bringing a box of cookies when he visits, whether it’s to a senior center or an intimate knitting group.

“If I win, it’s a victory [of] grass-roots politics in which they say, work your district, know your district, address the needs of your district. George has done that. And Jamaal did not sufficiently,” Latimer said in an interview last week. “That’s why George is going to Washington.”

Dylan Wells contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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