Rep. Eliot Engel from New York's 16th District is in serious danger of losing his seat. His Democratic primary challenger, Jamaal Bowman, had a 20 point lead late Tuesday night. Bowman hasn't declared victory yet because there are a lot of votes outstanding, but ... 20 points, y'all. Bowman's campaign was even surprised that he was spanking Engel in precincts in which the 31-year incumbent was expected to do well.

The prognosis looked dire enough that my boy Dave Wasserman called it this morning.

I love it when Wasserman says, “I've seen enough." I wish I had a catch phrase that bad-ass.

Because of COVID-19, every registered voter received an absentee ballot. As long as they're postmarked by June 23, any ballot received by June 30 will be counted. But Bowman is clearly in the better champagne popping position. Yes, a lot of well-off people fled New York during the shutdowns but it's not a given that all of them from the 16th will support Engel, who ran the sort of campaign a longtime incumbent runs when they consider primary campaigns mere formalities, like renewing your driver's license. Engel didn't learn much from the end of Joe Crowley's political career.

Yes, just two years ago, “young challenger" was considered a sufficient description for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is on a glide path to a second term after swatting away her self-financed challenger. AOC endorsed Bowman, along with Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Engel contributed several in-kind donations to Bowman's campaign. He lied about being in his district for a COVID-19 event, and during a news conference about police brutality protests, Engel said — on a hot mic — that “If I didn't have a primary, I wouldn't care." He wasn't really the jerk this line made him sound like. He was pleading with Bronx borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. to let him speak so that voters would know that he did care. It still seemed like a political calculation, which didn't help the narrative that he was an out-of-touch career politician.

A former Bronx school principal, Bowman has an impressive history advocating for students, families, and teachers. He is the founding principal of the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action, a highly regarded public middle school.

He's written movingly about his own experiences with police brutality, especially during Mike Bloomberg's tenure as mayor. He truly represents the people calling out for reform. Black voters aren't just a constituency to him that he's obligated to appease.

[In 2003] I was arrested and accused of stealing my own car because I parked somewhere illegally. That time my son was with me, as was my friend. My son got to see his daddy arrested by the police. Once again, I recall being detained for hours before being released without charge.

Eliot Engel, meanwhile, promoted himself as a “thorn in Donald Trump's side," but voting against Trump in a safely Democratic district inspires only a mild chorus of big whoops. As Bowman pointed out, Engel has also voted for the Iraq War, deregulating Wall Street, and building more prisons. Engel got desperate toward the end, unable to challenge Bowman on actual issues. Instead he claimed he wasn't a “real Democrat." I hate the cliquish “not a member of our club" mentality, especially when it's primarily used to exclude any new Democrats from the Left. The same folks will throw a party for former Republicans who want to join the club.

ENGEL: Jamaal Bowman has little history of involvement in our community.

What did Engel mean exactly by “our" community? Bowman worked in public education for decades.

ENGEL: He wasn't even a Democrat when Donald Trump was elected president and he didn't even vote in the most important Democratic primaries to elect Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as Democratic nominees for president.

Look, Black people, especially young Black men, have long felt disconnected from politics. Trump's nightmarish presidency has inspired many of us to action — more so than even casting a ballot for an imagined post-racial America. Any Democratic politician who doesn't recognize and applaud this commitment to change but instead wants to bar us from participating because we don't have the right decoder ring deserves to lose his seat.

Good luck, Mr. Bowman.

[CBS News]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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