Top Democrat in Westchester files to challenge Rep. Jamaal Bowman

Westchester County Executive George Latimer (D) filed paperwork indicating that he will run against Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) for the House seat just north of New York City, the latest primary challenge against a member of the liberal group of lawmakers known as “the Squad.”

Latimer filed a statement of candidacy to the Federal Election Commission on Monday, and a political consultant slated to work on the campaign who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private plans said a formal announcement is scheduled for Wednesday.

The county executive told The Washington Post in late October that the race could be a “proxy argument” between “the left and the far left.” The potential primary challenge comes as tensions rise within the Democratic Party about curbing U.S. support for Israel and the civilian death toll in Gaza after Hamas’s attack on the Jewish state Oct. 7. Latimer visited Israel last week but did not comment on his plans for 2024.

Bowman and his allies focused their responses on Monday not on Latimer, but on outside groups they said were targeting progressives and lawmakers of color. In a statement, Bowman’s campaign spokeswoman, Emma Simon, said, “It’s not a surprise that a Super PAC that routinely targets Black members of Congress with primary challenges and is funded by the same Republican mega-donors who give millions to election-denying Republicans including Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, and Ted Cruz have recruited a candidate for this race.”

The Working Families Party of New York, a liberal group that supported Bowman in previous races, said in a statement Monday that it would again back Bowman for reelection. The group also warned that pro-Israeli groups, including American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), “are planning to spend millions” to defeat him.

Marshall Wittmann, a spokesman for AIPAC, said in a statement that unlike Biden and other Democratic lawmakers, Bowman is aligned with “the anti-Israel extremist fringe.”

“Democrats in this district deserve a representative who stands by the mainstream view which supports the US-Israel relationship,” Wittmann added.

Bowman, 47, was an educator who ran in a Democratic primary in 2020 to challenge the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), a staunch defender of Israel. Bowman won, despite millions of dollars in ads from pro-Israel groups that supported Engel. According to a June 2020 letter by Bowman published in the Riverdale Press, the future congressman said he opposed the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement” aimed at seeking changes to Israeli policy and supported U.S. aid to the country so people there can “live in safety and peace, free from the fear of violence and terrorism from Hamas and other extremists.” He added, “I also believe that Palestinians are entitled to the same human rights, safety from violence and self-determination in a state of their own.”

Last month, Bowman told MSNBC, “It’s one thing to support Israel” but “it’s another thing to never hold Israel accountable for their behavior, whether it’s the occupation, the open-air prison that is Gaza, or the war crimes that are taking place right now during this siege.”

Bowman also became a target of right-wing ire after a September incident in which he pulled the fire alarm that forced the evacuation of the Cannon House Office Building as lawmakers scrambled to avert a government shutdown. He pleaded guilty to the charge of pulling a false fire alarm in late October. As part of a deal with the D.C. attorney general’s office, Bowman agreed to pay a $1,000 fine, give $50 to a crime victim’s compensation fund and, within two weeks, apologize in writing to the U.S. Capitol Police chief, according to court documents.

Other liberal House members facing a primary challenge in 2024 include Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Summer L. Lee (D-Pa.). The challenges come as President Biden and other Democrats face pressure from activists, as well as young voters and voters of color, over their handling of the war.

Protests demanding a cease-fire in the Israel-Gaza war follow almost anywhere Biden appears. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the only Palestinian American member of Congress, was censured last month over her comments related to Israel’s actions in Gaza. And last week, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer warned in a Senate speech that antisemites are “taking advantage of the pro-Palestinian movement to espouse hatred and bigotry toward Jewish people” and that the animosity is being expressed by “people that most liberal Jewish Americans felt previously were their ideological fellow travelers.”

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