July 23rd, 2024

George Latimer, a pro-Israel centrist, defeats Rep. Jamaal Bowman in New York Democratic primary

By Anthony Izaguirre, The Associated Press on June 25, 2024.

George Latimer, a pro-Israel centrist, defeated U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, of New York, on Tuesday in a Democratic primary that highlighted the party’s deep divisions over the war in Gaza.

With the victory, Latimer has ousted one of the most liberal voices in Congress and one of its most outspoken critics of Israel. Bowman has accused Israel of committing genocide in Gaza, where thousands of Palestinians have died in military strikes.

Latimer is a former state legislator who has served as Westchester County executive since 2018.

Bowman had been seeking a third term, representing a district in New York City’s northern suburbs. His defeat is a blow to the party’s progressive wing and a potential cautionary tale for candidates trying to shape their messaging around the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Latimer will be the prohibitive favorite to win in the general election. The district, which includes parts of Westchester and a small piece of the Bronx, is a Democratic stronghold.

Latimer, 70, got into the race at the urging of Jewish leaders upset with Bowman’s criticism of Israel.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s political action committee spent nearly $15 million on the primary, filling airwaves and mailboxes with negative ads in an effort to unseat Bowman, who has accused the influential pro-Israel lobbying group of trying to buy the race.

Some major progressive figures have rushed to Bowman’s defense. In the final stretch of the race, he rallied with liberal darlings Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders, while Latimer pulled in the endorsement of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

On Israel, both Bowman and Latimer support a two-state solution. They have also both condemned Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel that killed around 1,200 people. But Bowman was one of a few progressives who rejected a symbolic House resolution in support of Israel following the Oct. 7 attack. Latimer firmly backs Israel and said negotiating a cease-fire with Hamas is a non-starter because he believes it is a terrorist group.

Bowman was first elected in 2020 after running as a liberal insurgent against moderate U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, a 16-term congressman who chaired a House committee on foreign affairs. Bowman, 48, embraced the political outsider strategy this year as well, depicting Latimer as a tool of Republican donors and pro-Israel groups.

Latimer said Bowman’s criticism of Israel was only part of the reason why he decided to challenge the incumbent. He said Bowman hasn’t been attentive to the needs of the district, maintained few relationships with its leaders, and was more interested in getting spots on cable news than he was in helping people.

During the campaign, Latimer, who has more than three decades of political experience, often displayed his deep regional knowledge and connections to make the case that he would be an effective member of Congress. Latimer has said that’s the sort of politics people expect from their elected officials, rather than caustic fights between the far right and far left – a clear dig at Bowman.

Aside from his position on Israel, Bowman has been followed by lingering criticism over an incident last year when he triggered a fire alarm in a House building while lawmakers were working on a funding bill. He said it was unintentional, with the alarm going off when he tried to open a locked door while trying to vote. Bowman was censured by his colleagues in the House, and the incident drew embarrassing news coverage.

The congressional district’s boundaries have shifted since Bowman first won office in 2020, losing most of its sections in the Bronx and adding more of Westchester County’s suburbs.

Today, 21 percent of its voting-age population is Black and 42 percent is non-Hispanic white, according to U.S. Census figures, compared to 30 percent Black and 34 percent white in the district as it existed through 2022. Bowman is Black. Latimer is white.

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