Race and Israel become focal points of Bowman-Latimer Congressional primary battle

Westchester County Executive George Latimer (left) and US Rep. Jamaal Bowman.
Photos courtesy of George Latimer for Congress and AP Photo/John Minchillo, File

With the June 25 Democratic primary less than a week away, one of the most closely watched contests in the country is the showdown between US Rep. Jamaal Bowman and Westchester County Executive George Latimer in New York’s 16 Congressional District.

Bowman has represented the district, which covers Westchester County and a sliver of the Bronx, since 2021, after he won another hard-fought race against its former long-time Congress member, Eliot Engel. He ran as a far-left progressive and has maintained that status as a member of the so-called “Squad.”

Now, Bowman is engaged in a bitter fight to keep his seat from Latimer — a centrist who has been a fixture of Westchester County politics for decades. Latimer has led Westchester for the past six years and previously served on the town of Rye’s City Council.

According to a recent Emerson College poll, Latimer has 48% of the support from those surveyed, opening up a 17 point lead on the incumbent Bowman, who tallied 31%.

Much of the oxygen in the race has been taken up by the candidates’ opposing views on Israel’s devastating military offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip that followed the terror group’s deadly Oct. 7 attacks— where terrorists killed roughly 1,200 Israelis and took over 200 hostages.

Bowman is fiercely opposed to Israel’s aggressive bombing campaign and ground invasion of the coastal enclave and has consistently referred to it as a genocide. Latimer, meanwhile, has defended the assault as necessary to the country’s security.

Race and the influence of money in politics have also been major points of contention in the election.

A revealing debate

Bowman, during the final debate in the race on Pix11 Tuesday night, sought to refute accusations from Latimer that he does not work effectively with other lawmakers and stakeholders.

“My form of leadership is servant leadership, I like to serve the people in the district and serve the community,” Bowman said. “I work in collaboration with the people of New York City, Hastings, Mamaroneck, Rye and White Plains.”

Latimer,meanwhile, has tried to differentiate himself from Bowman by casting the current Congress member as more interested in making ideological statements than working with his peers to solve problems. By contrast, county executive argues that he is willing to collaborate with anyone to “move from an idea to an actual accomplished fact.”

Throughout the primary, Bowman and Latimer have traded barbs over race.

During the debate, Bowman charged that amid Latimer’s tenure as county executive Black people in Westchester have made far less money than their white counterparts. Additionally, he accused Latimer of sending campaign attack mailers with images that darken his skin.

“He has an abysmal record when it relates to racial justice in Westchester and we need to hold him accountable for that,” the representative said.

Latimer responded that Bowman is “cornering the market on lies,” while rejecting the notion that his campaign darkened the Congress member’s skin on campaign literature. He also insisted that he has worked on behalf of the district’s Black and brown residents in areas like Yonkers and Mt. Vernon during his many years holding various levels of public office in Westchester.

“[Jamaal Bowman] doesn’t know Westchester the way I do and when he talks about what we have or haven’t done in the poor communities, he doesn’t know, he’s not in the district enough to know,” Latimer said. 

At the same time, Latimer has argued Bowman only represents the district’s Black and brown communities, while ignoring its white and Asian residents. Bowman called the accusation “a joke,” emphasizing that his office has worked closely with the district’s Asian community, while paying more attention to Black and brown residents he says have been historically “neglected.”

On the conflict in Gaza

When the debate turned to the armed conflict between Israel and Hamas, in which the country’s military has killed roughly 37,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, Latimer rebuffed the idea that the massive death toll amounts to a genocide.

Instead, he said, it is a result of Hamas’ “unwillingness” to accept a plan recently outlined by President Biden to institute a three-phase end to the war in which there would be a ceasefire and Hamas would exchange Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners. 

“It is not a genocide. Let me tell you what it is, it is the unwillingness of Hamas to sit down at the table,” Latimer said. “Hamas has to release hostages … if you can get Hamas to release those prisoners, you can get a secession of the military action and humanitarian aid.”

While Israeli officials contend Hamas rejected the plan, the group said it simply reiterated specific terms it has long pushed for that were not included in the proposal.

Latimer has also accused Bowman of minimizing the impact of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack and of antisemitism — accusations which the representative denies.

Bowman, on the other hand, insisted that Israel’s actions constitute genocide. He cited the massive Palestinian death toll and a determination from the International Court of Justice earlier this year that it is “plausible” the country violated the genocide convention of international law.

Furthermore, the Congress member charged Latimer is refusing to acknowledge the Palestinian death toll or condemn Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because of the large amount of donations that have flowed into his campaign from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The group has reportedly poured over $12 million into Bowman attack ads on Latimer’s behalf.

“He does not acknowledge the existence of Palestinians, he has conflated Palestinians with Hamas and he doesn’t support a Palestinian state,” Bowman said. “This is because AIPAC, the people who are funding his campaign, will not allow him to even condemn Benjamin Netanyahu or acknowledge the existence of Palestinians.”