(CN) — Former middle school principal Jamaal Bowman has all but ended Congressman Eliot Engel’s three-decade tenure in the House of Representatives, with two independent election watchers declaring him the winner Wednesday.
“I’m a Black man raised by a single mother in a housing project,” Bowman tweeted. “That story usually doesn’t end in Congress. But today, that 11-year-old boy beaten by police is about to be your Representative.”
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report’s editor Dave Wasserman found Bowman’s 61%-to-34% lead insurmountable by 10:51 a.m. EST, even accounting for the huge number of absentee ballots remaining to be counted.
Decision Desk echoed that outcome, though The Associated Press maintained cautious silence pending further counting.
That was enough for Bowman to take a victory lap.
“From the very beginning, we anchored our campaign in the fight for racial and economic justice,” Bowman said in a statement. “We spoke the truth — about the police, about systemic racism, about inequality — and it resonated in every part of the district. Many doubted that we could overcome the power and money of a 31-year incumbent. But the results show that the people of NY-16 aren’t just ready for change, they’re demanding it.”
Though the 16th District has a toe in the Bronx, it mostly consists of several suburban communities of lower Westchester. With an all but certain and decisive victory, Bowman replicates a trend that began when then-political neophyte Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unseated another New York City-area district held by 10-term Congressman Joe Crowley.
Like Engel, Crowley was the white face of a racially diverse district. Bowman takes over a district that is 34% black and 32% white, while the 14th District, where Ocasio-Cortez pummeled her primary challengers in a blowout last night, is 49% Hispanic.
Backed by Ocasio-Cortez’s considerable clout, Bowman defeated one of the House of Representatives’ titans. As chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee after 16 terms in office, Engel has been investigating President Donald Trump’s firing of Steve Linick as State Department inspector general.
Probes like these — the Linick hearings kick off Thursday — led Engel to boast that he is a thorn in the president’s side, but Bowman told his supporters in a speech last night that he would inspire more fear from the White House.
“Do you know what Donald Trump is afraid of more than anything else?” Bowman asked, before answering with an applause line. “A black man with power.”
Like Ocasio-Cortez, Bowman offered his supporters a vision of a Congress more ethnically diverse and willing to move the Democratic party to his left. He benefited from a perception of an out-of-touch incumbent ignoring his constituents at home while politicking in Washington. Engel did not help matters by remaining on Capitol Hill as the coronavirus battered his constituents, residents of areas said to be undergoing a sea change.
“It’s a curiously shaped district,” Dan DiSalvo, a political science professor at City University of New York, noted in a phone interview.
“Even the Westchester part, which one could imagine being more favorable to Engel,” DiSalvo added, “has also changed demographically with a big influx of younger progressive families from Brooklyn, who are certainly in the current moment much more open to an African-American candidate.”
Engel’s ill-fated gesture of support of the Black Lives Matter movement only gave his critics more ammunition when the Democratic leader appeared to be caught on a hot mic announcing — twice — that he would not care about the protest were it not for the primary.
Capitalizing on the gaffe, Bowman noted that the subject of those protests was not a campaign abstraction for him.
“I’m a black man in America, raised by a single mom, spent some time in the housing projects, lived in rent-stabilized apartments, went to public schools my entire life, grew up during the crack-cocaine epidemic, which hurt and ravaged many parts of my family as well as my friends’ families,” Bowman told his supporters in a speech.
Refusing to concede defeat, Engel’s campaign vowed to closely monitor absentee ballots over the next week, noting that such a count will not begin for another six days.
“Any declarative statement on the outcome of this race right now is premature and undermines the democratic process,” the campaign said in an unsigned statement. “Congressman Engel strongly believes that every absentee ballot should be counted, especially during this pandemic. In the meantime, the congressman will continue his work for the people of the Bronx and Westchester.”
For his part, Bowman has pivoted in his fundraising messaging to raising money for his battles to come in Congress.