Representing what supporters call "a new generation" for the U.S. Congress, middle school principal Jamaal Bowman announced his primary challenge to moderate Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel on Tuesday, calling on constituents to reject the 16-term congressman's record of aligning himself with corporate interests.
Bowman is the second progressive candidate to challenge Engel in the 2020 election and the first to win the endorsement of Justice Democrats, the national group which helped launch Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's campaign last year. As Common Dreams reported, teacher Andom Ghebreghiorgis announced his run last week.
"With Jamaal, we have the chance to drive home the message that came out of AOC's incredible victory—people across New York and the country aren't going to accept middle-of-the-road, milquetoast centrism anymore."
—Alexandra Rojas, Justice Democrats"Jamaal is the type of leader we need in Washington. He's not a career politician—he's a middle school principal who built his school from the ground up and has dedicated his life to making sure kids have the chance to succeed," Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats, told supporters in an email.
Bowman announced his candidacy with a video posted to social media, showing him walking the streets of the northern Bronx neighborhood where he serves as the founding principal of a public community school, the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action.
"We need to nurture the future of America by investing in our schools," Bowman said. "It's time to build a new America, 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."
I want to talk about a vision for a new America. It’s a country rooted in our humanity. A vision where everyone is included.
It's time for #NY16 to have a Democrat who will fight for jobs and education, not bombs and incarceration.
— Jamaal Bowman (@JamaalBowmanNY) June 18, 2019
In his announcement, Bowman pledged to fight for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, universal childcare, and criminal justice reform.
"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 told the New York Times.
Bowman released the campaign video about a year after Ocasio-Cortez won her primary election against another powerful centrist Democrat, Joe Crowley, shocking moderate Democratic leaders. Justice Democrats wrote in an email to supporters that Bowman's potential victory over Engel would represent a similar win for working people.
"Like Joe Crowley, Jamaal's opponent has powerful establishment interests on his side and a war chest of corporate PAC money to draw from," Rojas told supporters. "But what he doesn't have that Jamaal does is you, and thousands of other progressives ready to win by his side."
Engel has spent more than 30 years in Congress, and Bowman on Tuesday made clear his plan to offer an alternative to Engel's record of supporting destructive foreign policy and accepting donations from corporate PACs and powerful companies like AT&T, Northrup Grumman, and Raytheon.
"My opponent has been in office for over 30 years," Bowman said. "Over those 30 years my opponent voted for an unjust war in Iraq, deregulating Wall Street, school privatization, and building more prisons. While the very few at the top continue to build their wealth and their power, the majority of us continue to struggle."
Engel's hawkish and pro-corporate positions have helped to hamstring progress in his own district, Rojas said.
While Bowman has spent his career working with marginalized families in the Bronx, Rojas wrote, "there's only so much you can do in that situation when the problem isn't your neighborhood or community—the problem is an economy that is structurally rigged to protect those few at the top."
Justice Democrats have raised more than $22,000 for Bowman so far, and hope to raise $100,000 in the coming days as it did last week for Jessica Cisneros, another progressive who's challenging Rep. Henry Cuellar, a right-leaning Democrat, in Texas.
"With Jamaal, we have the chance to drive home the message that came out of AOC's incredible victory—people across New York and the country aren't going to accept middle-of-the-road, milquetoast centrism anymore," Rojas told supporters. "There are millions of Americans who are struggling and solutions that fix those problems over 10 years from now aren't enough."
"It's time for bold, progressive solutions," she added. "It's time for a new generation of Justice Democrats."