A political novice who has never held a public office before, Bowman, 44, was a progressive African-American challenger who said that Engel, the chair of the House’s foreign affairs committee, 73, had lost touch with his economically and racially diverse neighborhood.
He won his extraordinary victory in a campaign season shaken first by the coronavirus epidemic and then by protests over the death of George Floyd.
The two candidates were unable to campaign traditionally due to social restrictions, but Bowman criticized Engel for staying at his home in Maryland, as the pandemic transformed his district of the Bronx and suburb of Westchester County into the one of the virus’ deadliest hunting grounds.
Engel said he was working on behalf of the Washington District.
Verbal blunder at a local event
Then, after protests against Floyd’s death in Minnesota gave way to two nights of looting, Engel made prejudicial comments to his campaign during an appearance at an event in the Bronx where he joined d ‘other local politicians calling for peace.
“If I didn’t have a primary, I don’t care,” he said in a comment captured by a live microphone, while begging local organizers to have a chance to speak at the event.
Engel, who is white, said he had “always believed that the lives of blacks matter” and said his comments were taken out of context, but Bowman, who spoke of his own experiences with police brutality, said said they had illustrated why the district needed new leadership.
Engel conceded defeat on Friday, saying in a statement “the numbers are clear”.
He said serving his constituents in Congress “has been the greatest privilege of my life,” and praised Bowman.
“I wish Mr. Bowman the best of luck as he begins this new chapter in his life,” Engel said.
In beating Engel, Bowman replicated the success of Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who beat another powerful New York Democrat, Joe Crowley, in a neighboring congressional district two years ago.
I am a black man who was raised by a single mother in a housing project.
This story does not usually end in Congress.
But today, this 11-year-old boy who was beaten by the police is about to be your next representative. pic.twitter.com/YIkfSecbXD
– @ JamaalBowmanNY
The campaign was the last proxy battle between the progressive and pragmatic wings of the party. Bowman was backed by Ocasio-Cortez and US Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren while Engel was supported by Hillary Clinton and US Senator Charles Schumer.
Bowman grew up in social housing in New York. He was a teacher and school counselor for several years before becoming the founding principal of a Bronx college, the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action.
The district is strongly democratic, so the first winner is virtually assured of victory in the general election in November.