Jamaal Bowman said he is not afraid to make people uncomfortable.
A year before George Floyd’s death ignited a global reckoning over racial discrimination and police brutality, Bowman, who is Black, launched his campaign for Congress centered on racial injustice and human rights.
“We were unapologetic about that from the very beginning,” Bowman, a 44-year-old father of three and middle school principal, told NBC News in a phone interview. “Coming into the campaign, we felt that structural racism, institutional racism, institutional classism, institutional sexism and militarism are the evils that continue to plague American society generally.”
That’s why, in the days following Floyd’s death, Bowman joined protesters in Yonkers decrying police brutality and racial injustice.
“It’s great to be out here in Yonkers, it’s great to see this response,” he said in one video posted to his official YouTube page over vigorous chants of “I can’t breathe.”
His visibility at the recent protests puts him in contrast to Rep. Eliot Engel, the longtime Democrat incumbent he hopes to unseat in the June 23 contest. Engel, 73, who was first elected to Congress in 1988, has in recent months faced an onslaught of criticism for being chronically absent from his district. Those concerns mounted after Engel was caught on a hot mic at an event responding to unrest in his district related to Floyd’s death, saying he “wouldn’t care” about speaking to the crowd if he didn’t face a primary. His office did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
The area they are fighting for — New York’s 16th Congressional District — is something of a unicorn. It is a majority-minority district that includes portions of the diverse, working-class Bronx and mostly white, wealthy areas of Westchester, as well as suburban areas like Mount Vernon, Yonkers and New Rochelle.
“When you look at this district, what you see is a tale of two districts,” Bowman said. “In one part of the district, you have incredible wealth. In the other part of the district, you have the highest number of WIC recipients of any congressional district in the country,” he added, referring to a federal nutrition assistance program.
To close that gap, he wants to see a “massive economic investment” across the district, but particularly in areas where poverty is concentrated. His agenda includes a federal jobs guarantee, up to 70,000 new affordable homes in the district, federal aid to upgrade existing public housing and boost public school budgets and universal health care through Medicare for All, among other areas.
First, he has to topple Engel, the powerful chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Engel, who hasn’t faced a major primary challenger in decades, has been endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,…