The progressive group that has backed challenges to incumbent Democrats and helped elect Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will now support a primary challenger against another top Democrat in Congress.
Justice Democrats is backing Jamaal Bowman, a middle school principal and former teacher in the Bronx, in his campaign against Rep. Eliot Engel in New York’s 16th Congressional District. Bowman launched his campaign in a video announcement Tuesday morning.
“It’s time to build a new America that taps into its unlimited potential, a new America that leverages the brilliance of children and people from diverse backgrounds. That’s the America I want to be a part of,” Bowman said in his launch video. He’s running on a platform focused on investing in public schools, free college, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and criminal justice reform.
Bowman is the second primary challenger Justice Democrats has backed in the 2020 election since putting out a call in 2018 for communities to nominate people they thought would be a good fit to run for Congress. Last week, Justice Democrats announced it was backing Jessica Cisneros, a human rights attorney, against Rep. Henry Cuellar in Texas’s 28th Congressional District.
Engel was first elected to the House in 1989, and Republicans haven’t even run a candidate in his district in the past two election cycles. He is now chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a top position for international issues in Congress. With Bowman’s entry into the race, Engel is facing three primary challengers who are running to his left. The race against Engel will be an uphill battle: During the 2018 primary, Engel cruised to reelection against three primary challengers.
Justice Democrats is hoping to replicate the formula that helped Ocasio-Cortez oust former representative Joe Crowley, who had been one of the top-ranking Democrats in the House. The group has pointed to Engel’s support of school privatization, the Iraq War, deregulation of Wall Street, and the 1994 crime bill, along with his opposition to bills that would have banned private prisons and sponsored free college, as signs that he’s out of step with his district. The district includes some of the Bronx as well as portions of southern Westchester County.
“Our grassroots movement shocked the country last year with AOC’s upset victory, and we are prepared to do it again in New York’s 16th District,” Alexandra Rojas, the executive director of Justice Democrats, said. “It’s time to usher in a new generation of progressive leadership into the Democratic Party.”
Bowman — who helped found and is serving as principal of the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action, a public school in the Bronx — has been a vocal advocate of the opt-out movement, which encourages third- through eighth-graders in New York to opt out of standardized testing. In 2015, Bowman called standardized testing “modern-day slavery.”
“We have to take back our schools,” Bowman said in a 2017 speech, pointing to standardized testing as part of the racial eugenics movement. “As we know, black people have been terrorized throughout American history from slavery to Jim Crow, to crack cocaine, to mass incarceration, to the continual standardized tests.”
“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,” Rojas said.