The Fall of Jamaal

Issue 288

Nine reasons Jamaal Bowman became the first member of the Squad to lose a congressional re-election race.

John Tarleton Jul 1

In June of 2020, Jamaal Bowman rode the tsunami of Black Lives Matter protests from the Bronx middle school where he was principal to Capitol Hill as the representative for New York’s 16th congressional district. Four years later, he became the first member of the Squad, a group of eight outspoken leftwing members of Congress, to lose their re-election bid, falling by 17 points to Westchester County Executive George Latimer. Here are nine reasons Bowman was toppled. 

  1. AIPAC —
    Any Bowman post-mortem has to start with the role of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerhouse pro-Israel lobby group that spent $14.5 million on the race — flooding the airwaves with ads lauding Latimer and denouncing Bowman. AIPAC’s largesse in turn allowed Latimer to exploit all his other advantages. 
  1. Gerrymandering —
    In 2020, 41% of registered voters in NY16 lived in the Bronx. After redistricting in 2022, that number dropped to 15% as the district shifted further north into whiter, more affluent parts of Westchester County. In this year’s primary, Bowman won the Bronx part of his district by 84-16% while Latimer won Westchester by 63-37%. If the district lines had remained the same, Bowman likely cruises to re-election. 
  1. Racism —
    With the district lines redrawn, Latimer didn’t hesitate to use racist dog whistles to paint Bowman as an “angry Black man” and a representative who was only concerned about his Black and Latino constituents. Latimer’s use of white grievance politics shouldn’t have been surprising. He once compared Andrew Cuomo to Emmitt Till when the former governor was being investigated for sexual harassment. 
  1. The Fire Alarm —
    Bowman pulled a Capitol Hill fire alarm last September en route to a budget vote. He later pled guilty to a single misdemeanor charge. The video footage of Bowman doing the deed is damning and served as perfect fodder for AIPAC attack ads. 
  1. The Biden Factor —
    Bowman was repeatedly denounced in attack ads for not voting for the 2021 Infrastructure Bill. The legislative history around this is convoluted and mostly forgotten, but here goes. Once upon a time, there was a second much more ambitious piece of legislation called Build Back Better. It was backed by the president and presented as the signature domestic initiative of his presidency. It  would have created an array of new government initiatives (permanent child tax credit, investments in child care, better Medicare benefits for the elderly, to name a few) to make life easier for ordinary Americans. It also could have helped Biden coast to re-election in 2024 and stave off a Trump restoration. Despite opinion polls showing these programs having broad public support, a handful of conservative Democrats blocked Build Back Better. Biden ultimately caved to their demands. The Infrastructure Bill was “decoupled” from Build Back Better and passed with Republican support over the objections of Bowman and other Squad members. For fighting harder for the Biden agenda than Biden and other party leaders, Bowman and his fellow Squad members have been branded ever since as disloyal. The conservative Democrats who obstructed Build Back Better for months have skated with no reputational damage. 
  1. October 7th Aftermath —
    AIPAC’s attack ads didn’t focus on Israel because much of Westchester County’s large Jewish population was already furious at Bowman for calling for a ceasefire and for labeling Israel’s assault on Gaza a “genocide.” Those voters came out in overwhelming numbers. 
  1. Lack of Local Networks —
    Bowman was elected in 2020 as a political outsider. Latimer, meanwhile, has held various local offices in Westchester County since 1987. When AIPAC recruited Latimer with the promise of unlimited financial backing, he already had extensive local political networks in place that he could activate.
  1. Lack of Campaign Infrastructure —
    For most of his time in office, Bowman was a tepid fundraiser compared to some of the other Squad members who have large small-dollar donor followings. He had only about $200,000 in the bank when October 7 supercharged his opposition. AIPAC saw weakness and pounced. 
  2. His Own Conscience —
    Bowman traveled to Israel in 2021 and visited the Occupied West Bank — something most visiting politicians pass up on when they travel to Israel — and later recalled being appalled by the oppressive, apartheid system Israel had imposed on the Palestinians. He began speaking out. As a former educator, Bowman has also said he couldn’t remain quiet while Israel killed more than 15,000 children in Gaza and left thousands more as amputees and orphans. For this, he paid the price.

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