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Andom Ghebreghiorgis, a Mount Vernon, New York teacher, is challenging Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) in the 2020 Democratic primary.

Andom Ghebreghiorgis, a Mount Vernon, New York teacher, is challenging Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) in the 2020 Democratic primary. (Image: School-Stories)

'The Ocasio-Cortez Effect': Democratic Grassroots Ignoring Establishment Threats as Yet Another Progressive Announces Plan to Primary Incumbent

Andom Ghebreghiorgis is, as of Wednesday, the latest young, left-leaning Democrat to challenge an incumbent member of Congress in a primary

Eoin Higgins

Call it the "Ocasio-Cortez effect": the party's insurgent progressive grassroots base is rising and ready to primary their elders.

"For my generation of students born after 9/11, all they have known, every year of their life, is war; the threat of climate extinction; and the intractability of wage stagnation, college unaffordability, and income inequality"
—Andom Ghebreghiorgis

Andom Ghebreghiorgis is, as of Wednesday, the latest young, left-leaning Democrat to challenge a sitting member of Congress, in this case Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the powerful head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The primary will be held on June 23, 2020. 

Ghebreghiorgis, a 33 year-old special education teacher from Mount Vernon, New York, drew a line between his politics and Engel's in excerpts of a speech announcing his run obtained by The Washington Post. In the remarks, Ghebreghiorgis called out Engel for "millions of dollars in contributions from real estate, the healthcare industry, the military/defense lobby, and Wall Street."

Further, said Ghebreghiorgis, Engel represents a way of doing politics that hasn't been effective to change things for the better for the country and the younger generation.

"For my generation of students born after 9/11, all they have known, every year of their life, is war; the threat of climate extinction; and the intractability of wage stagnation, college unaffordability, and income inequality," Ghebreghiorgis said. 

Engel, 72, has been in Congress for over 30 years. The 16-term congressman's time in office has been mostly uneventful as he's quietly risen through the ranks. But there have been a few moments of tension with the party's liberal base: in 2014, Engel shared a stage with Islamophobe Pamela Geller at a rally supporting Israel's war on Gaza that summer. This year, Engel has been critical of fellow committee member Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a favored target of the hard right for both her left-wing foreign policy positions and her status as one of the first two Muslim congresswomen in the House. 

Ghebreghiorgis targeted Engel's hawkish foreign policy views in his comments, particularly the congressman's support for the Israeli occupation, opposition to the Iran deal, and support for the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, saying that "humanity does not benefit from these militaristic policies that we typically expect to be supported by the Republican Party."

Wednesday's announcement makes Ghebreghiorgis just the latest primary challenger for a sitting Democrat, despite attempts by the party establishment to squash a possible uprising from the base sparked by the successes of Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), both of whom unseated powerful Democrats in what were thought to be safe seats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) issued rules in March blacklisting vendors working with anyone—including Democratic primary challengers—running against sitting Democrats.

The move was met with criticism from progressives and, more importantly, doesn't appear to have had much of an effect: a number of prominent Democratic consultants bucked the committee and formed an independent network of progressive election vendors, the DCCC has been criticized publicly by prominent progressive Democrats, and Ghebreghiorgis joins a growing field of primary challengers that are looking to unseat the party's more right wing politicians that serve in "safe" districts.

Among the other primary challengers are Lola Osoria, another New York teacher who is running to replace Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and also launched her campaign this week; Mckayla Wilkes, who is running against Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.); Ihssane Leckey, who is challenging Rep. Joseph Kennedy, III; and Marie Newman, whose announced second run against Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) has already generated a small storm of coverage, including at Common Dreams

In his comments, Ghebreghiorgis made the case for turning to a new generation of leadership and acknowledged there was a long, uphill path to achieving it.

"This urgent time for change was yesterday," said Ghebreghiorgis, "but it's not going to come on its own."

Watch the announcement:


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