Latimer Beats Bowman in Pricey NY Primary Shaped by Gaza War

(Bloomberg) -- George Latimer defeated New York Representative Jamaal Bowman in the most expensive congressional primary in US history, a race that exposed the stark divisions within the Democratic Party over the Israel-Hamas war.

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Latimer, Westchester County’s top elected official, was leading Bowman by 58.4% to 41.6% with 88% of the votes counted in New York’s 16th Congressional district, according to the Associated Press. The district encompasses some poor sections in the Bronx in New York City and some of the richest suburbs of Westchester County.

Bowman’s defeat deals a significant blow to liberals who have been trying to push the party further left. And it’s a boost to more moderate Democrats, a trend that played out Tuesday in races elsewhere in New York, boosting Democrats’ chances of reclaiming the US House majority in November.

The closely watched campaign devolved into bitter infighting that symbolized larger divisions within the party nationally, a rift that some Democrats worry could damage President Joe Biden’s reelection effort in November. Still, Latimer’s victory in the heavily Democratic NY-16 all but ensures he’ll win the general election against the former Scarsdale mayor, Republican Miriam Levitt Flisser.

The congressman is a member of the “Squad,” a group of non-White progressive members of Congress. In recent days, fellow Squad member Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and progressive Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders campaigned for Bowman.

He now becomes the first member of the group to lose reelection.

Shortly after the race was called, Bowman walked out to a cheering crowd in Yonkers who chanted his name.

“This movement has never been about one person. This movement was never just about me, it was never just about New York-16,” Bowman said. He and his supporters will “continue to fight the evils of capitalism, militarism and racism. That is who we are. That is who we are going to continue to be.”

Bowman’s response to the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas and the ongoing conflict that followed fueled critics and concern in his district, which is one of the most heavily Jewish in the US. On the campaign trail, Latimer ripped Bowman for calling for an end to US military aid to Israel and referring to its retaliatory bombardment of Hamas-run Gaza as genocide. Hamas is labeled a terrorist group by the US and European Union.

At his victory party in White Plains, where a crowd of hundreds of supporters cheered and hugged each other, Latimer called for the district to come together after the bitter and divisive primary.

“We have to have unity,” Latimer said. “If we hold a strong belief, you still must work with others who don’t share that belief, because America hangs in the balance.”

Record Spending

With more than $23 million in outside spending poured into the race, it became the most expensive House primary in US history. It topped the $17 million spent two years ago in Oregon’s 6th District race, according to the commercial-tracking firm AdImpact.

Latimer, 70, was bolstered by a flood of money from pro-Israel interests such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, as well as well-known, wealthy individuals including Lloyd Blankfein, Boaz Weinstein, Lisa Blau, Blair Effron, David Einhorn, Bennett Goodman, Dan Loeb and Dan Och. Hedge fund manager Einhorn, who lives in the district, told Bloomberg in April that it was “unacceptable to have an October 7 denier as my representative in Congress.” Latimer, who is Catholic, also received support from about two dozen rabbis.

Hamas killed over 1,200 people in its attack, while Israel’s military campaign in Gaza has killed more than 37,000, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

The contest also took on racial overtones. Latimer, who is White, went up against the charismatic Black former middle school principal in a district that is half Black and Hispanic but also home to about 60,000 Jewish residents, roughly 13% of its population. Bowman, 48, accused the Westchester leader of racist rhetoric and of accepting funding from donors who support Republicans.

The vote results showed sharp divisions between the Westchester and Bronx parts of the district. In the New York City borough, with more than 95% of the votes counted, roughly 8,000 votes were split 84% to 16% in Bowman’s favor. In suburban Westchester, where the bulk of the district’s voters live, more than 67,000 ballots had been cast, and Latimer was winning 63% to 37%, with 88% of the votes counted.

“This race has shown just how impactful everyday people can be to transform our political system. One single middle school principal is such a threat to right wing power, to corporate mega donors, and to AIPAC’s influence,” Usamah Andrabi, a spokesman for the progressive group Justice Democrats, said Tuesday. “It shows now more than ever how strong our progressive movement is.”

Bowman’s standing may have been hurt by his sometimes bizarre behavior. He authored blog posts that appeared to give credence to 9/11 conspiracy theories. Last year he was charged with a misdemeanor after pulling a fire alarm in the US Capitol building as members of Congress were attempting to cast a vote. And his recent rally with Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders was held in the South Bronx, which isn’t in his district.

“It’s very hard for an incumbent to lose. And Congressman Bowman did everything possible” to make that happen, J.C. Polanco, a political analyst and professor of ethnic and race studies at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, said in an interview before the race was called. “His team committed incredible political malpractice.”

Elsewhere in New York, political commentator John Avlon easily won the Democratic primary in the US House race in eastern Long Island, beating retired chemistry professor Nancy Goroff for the chance to win back a seat held by Republicans for more than a decade. And in the Syracuse-area 22nd Congressional District, centrist John Mannion won the Democratic primary and will face off in November against freshman Brandon Williams, perhaps the most vulnerable incumbent Republican in the country.

Bowman’s defeat will mark the end of four years on Capitol Hill for the congressman, who was first elected on the heels of a destabilizing pandemic and a racial awakening following the murder of George Floyd. A majority of voters in both Westchester and the Bronx backed his insurgent candidacy against Eliot Engel, a 16-term incumbent.

In recent weeks, Bowman moved away from some of his more moderate stances on Israel. He previously opposed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against the Jewish state and voted to support Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, but he’s since changed his stance on both issues.

He was also was one of six Democrats who voted against Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure package in 2021, a move that Latimer and other detractors have repeatedly criticized him for.

Latimer entered politics after decades as a salesman, winning elections for a string of local and state offices before running and winning the race for Westchester County executive. He has a record of supporting progressive legislation.

--With assistance from Amanda Gordon.

(Updates with comment from spokesman for Justice Democrats. A previous version of this story corrected the description of the 16th district in second paragraph.)

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