MANHATTAN (CN) — In a major upset of the Democratic Party’s entrenched power players, former middle school principal Jamaal Bowman has won the primary race against 16-term incumbent Congressman Eliot Engel for New York’s 16th Congressional District.
“I’m a Black man raised by a single mother in a housing project,” Bowman tweeted on Friday, repeating his same message from his earlier victory lap. “That story usually doesn’t end in Congress. But today, that 11-year-old boy beaten by police is about to be your Representative.”
“We brought people together across race, across class, across religion, across gender, to fight for justice, to fight for equality, and to fight to create a country that works for all of us,” he added in a subsequent post. “We didn’t let them divide us.”
Victory for Bowman, a Black political novice who has never before held public office, brings an end to Engel’s three-decade tenure in the House of Representatives.
While many votes cast by mail in the race remain to be counted, an Associated Press analysis of absentee ballots returned so far indicated Friday that Bowman’s lead from votes cast in person is too large for Engel, who is white, to overcome.
Bowman already declared victory in the race on June 24, a day after New York’s primary last month, with two independent election watchers declaring him the winner, even accounting for the huge number of absentee ballots that remained to be counted.
Refusing to concede defeat, Engel’s campaign vowed to closely monitor absentee ballots over the following week.
In the early stages of counting on election night, with 31,795 ballots counted at that time — and 471 of 732 electoral districts reporting — Bowman had soared ahead over Engel by a 59%-to-35% margin.
The 16th Congressional District is majority black and Latino, with large pockets of white suburbs, including a southern portion of Westchester County and the northern part of the Bronx.
Bowman, 44, who worked in the district as middle school principal for 10 years, launched his campaign on June 18, 2019.
Casting himself as a progressive candidate, Bowman said Engel, the 73-year-old chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, had lost touch with his economically and racially diverse district.
The 16th Congressional District is adjacent to the 14th Congressional District in the Bronx, where two years ago then-28-year-old bartender Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic Socialist and political newcomer, beat out a high-ranking 10-term incumbent congressman Joseph Crowley in New York’s 2018 primary elections.
During his 2020 campaign, Bowman received endorsements from Ocasio-Cortez and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, prominent totems of clout for the party’s left wing.
“Jamaal understands that low-income families are locked out of opportunity and a decent life due to a system that is rigged to benefit the wealthy,” Sanders’ campaign said of Bowman in their endorsement. “In Congress he will lead the fight for investing in our public schools, ending mass incarceration, and addressing the housing crisis. He is someone we can trust to be a powerful advocate for a progressive agenda in Congress.”
Bowman also received support from liberal groups like the Working Families Party and political action committees like the Justice Democrats, which jointly pledged to spend more than half a million dollars to unseat the incumbent.
Justice Democrats’ platform includes support for single payer, Medicare for All system, a Green New Deal, and a federal jobs guarantee program.
As Bowman’s campaign accrued momentum in the spring of 2020, Engel weathered criticism for staying in Washington as the coronavirus battered his district in the Bronx and Westchester.