Tuesday’s Jamaal Bowman Primary Hits Close to Home for Me

Photograph Source: U.S. Department of Defense – Public Domain

I grew up in northern Westchester County, New York. Nearly twenty years ago I came to DC, thinking it’d be for just a few months. Instead, I got swept up in DC’s activist scene and haven’t left the area.

First as an activist, then as a journalist, my focus was on the city’s local power structure, the DC Council in particular. But with Congress right here, I’d occasionally visit the Capitol and sit in on random committee hearings.

No hearings frustrated me more than those of the House Foreign Relations Committee, where the panel’s top Democrat, Congressman Eliot Engel, seemed to back every war, while opposing diplomatic advances like President Obama’s Iran deal.

But what made me angriest about Engel was that he represented, in addition to a sliver of the Bronx, the southern half of my home county of Westchester. And I knew that most of Engel’s constituents had no idea that he was misusing his powerful post to push for more war.

So in 2020, when Engel drew a serious primary challenge, I was thrilled. Even if the first-time candidate, a Black middle school principal named Jamaal Bowman, had no chance of winning, at least Engel wouldn’t waltz into his seventeenth term without a fight. Then the impossible happened, and Bowman won.

In the ensuing three-and-a-half years, Bowman has proven to be every bit as peaceful on foreign policy as Engel was bellicose. And for that, Bowman is a marked man – particularly by AIPAC and its right-wing donors.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has been around over 60 years, but it only began intervening in Democratic primaries in a big way last election cycle. AIPAC’s move came on the heels of a string of corporate Democrats losing primary contests to progressive “Squad” members, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018, and Bowman two years later.

To stop this trend, AIPAC – backed by millions from Republican donors – quickly became the top outside spender in Democratic primaries, dropping $26 million in 2022. This year, AIPAC plans to spend a cool $100 million, and the group’s top target is Bowman, whose primary is Tuesday, June 25.

“[I]n barely a month, an AIPAC-affiliated super PAC has spent $14.5 million — up to $17,000 an hour — on the race, filling television screens, stuffing mailboxes and clogging phone lines with caustic attacks,” the New York Times reported. “With days to go, the expenditures have already eclipsed what any interest group has ever spent on a single House race.”

Tellingly, AIPAC’s ads rarely mention Bowman’s views on Israel, which are thoughtful and nuancedand supported by many progressive Jews. “Calling for cease-fire does not mean we support Hamas, does not mean we support the killing of Israelis or Jews, does not mean we support antisemitism,” Bowman said at a protest outside the White House late last year. “We are calling for cease-fire because we don’t want anyone else to die.”

Of course, Bowman isn’t perfect. He infamously pulled a fire alarm in the Capitol Building, reportedly to delay a vote, which led to his censure. And he follows a wide array of folks on social media, including some conspiracy theorists. AIPAC, however, isn’t targeting him for these reasons, but because of his views on Israel and Palestine.

While too much airtime has been given to Bowman’s imperfections, not enough has been given to those of his opponent, Westchester County Executive George Latimer, who AIPAC helped recruit to run.

Latimer’s cheating on his wife with his longtime girlfriend “has been an open secret in Westchester politics for years,” Talk of the Sound, a local blog, reported in 2021, and 2017. While that’s Latimer’s personal business, he made it the county’s when he quietly gave his girlfriend a six-figure job in his administration. Just imagine the salacious headlines we’d be reading right now if Bowman had tried to pull that off.

And that’s not all. When Latimer’s unpaid parking tickets grew so numerous that he was prohibited from driving his own car, he borrowed a subordinate’s. We know this because Latimer proceeded to crash his staffer’s car, injuring another driver in a 2017 accident.

During this period when Latimer was legally barred from driving his car, he thumbed his nose at the law and did so anyway. Questioned about this by The Journal News, Latimer claimed he’d only taken the car on a quick “loop” to keep the engine healthy – and get some coffee.

There’s been radio silence in the media about these incidents, which wouldn’t be the case if Bowman was the scofflaw in question. But as concerning as these transgressions are, it’s Latimer’s earlier political choices that trouble me more.


I was just a kid when my Uncle Len issued his landmark 1985 ruling. The only impact it had on me was that, when visiting Uncle Len and Aunt Ann for a swim in their delightfully cool pool, I now might see US Marshalls in the driveway, which seemed pretty cool at the time.

When my great uncle wasn’t poolside, it turned out he was a federal judge. And Judge Leonard Sand had managed to piss off a lot of people when he required the city of Yonkers to desegregate its housing. (HBO’s mini-series Show Me a Hero dramatizes these events.)

While this may seem like ancient history, it didn’t feel that way as I read Branko Marcetic’s recent story for Jacobin, “George Latimer’s History of Slow-Walking Desegregation.”

Yonkers, after years of foot-dragging, finally came around to the idea of building substantial amounts of affordable housing, as Uncle Len’s ruling required. Only to do so, the city sought to use four-and-a-half acres of local parkland – but Latimer, an up-and-coming legislator at the time, was determined to prevent this.

“Latimer was one of the eight county legislators who narrowly defeated a push in March 1997 to hand the parkland over to the city for housing,” Marcetic wrote. “A month later, he was on the losing end of a 12–3 vote to transfer the parkland, voting alongside two Republicans on the majority-GOP board.”

For several years after that, including as board chairman, Latimer still carried on his fight. “Latimer fought the city’s attempt to abide by a federal desegregation order to the bitter end,” wrote Marcetic, “even when it put him to the right of his own party leadership and much of the New York political establishment, Republicans included.”

Close to home

There’s a final reason why the Bowman-Latimer race hits close to home for me. As a Jew, it’s infuriating to watch AIPAC unleash millions of dollars in attack ads against yet another progressive Black candidate.

While AIPAC boasts of being the top donor to Congressional Black Caucus members, the fact remains that nothing animates the group quite like taking out Black progressives.

I watched this up close two years ago, when AIPAC’s super PAC spent $6 million to stop former congresswoman Donna Edwards from representing her Maryland district abutting DC. And after AIPAC is through with Bowman, its next target is Missouri Congresswoman Cori Bush, whose primary is August 6.

“‘Shut up or else’ is the message [AIPAC]… is sending to Black lawmakers in America who are critical of what’s happening in Gaza,” Washington Post columnist Karen Attiah wrote in regards to the onslaught Bowman is facing.

“It’s hard to overstate the importance of the Bowman vs. Latimer showdown for progressives… it is a test of how far America’s right wing will go to crush progressive movements. No one should be surprised that a Black politician is the canary in the coal mine.”

Pete Tucker is a journalist based in DC. He writes at petetucker.substack.com