Late last month, in the most expensive House primary in history with over $24 million spent, Congressman Jamaal Bowman overwhelmingly lost the Democratic Party nomination to Westchester County Executive George Latimer. Bowman’s defeat was a long time coming, with a series of critical misjudgments and immature behavior contributing to his demise. But one moment of desperation, in particular, sealed the congressman’s fate.

In a last-ditch effort, days before the polls closed, Bowman and other prominent progressives took the stage at a rally in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx. The rally, sparsely attended by roughly 300 people, started with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez taking the stage as Cardi B’s “Enough” blared in the background with its constant expletives. AOC shook the podium wildly as she yelled about taking the country back and called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Following her, Senator Bernie Sanders was more composed, but his message was no more sensible: “This election is about whether the billionaire class and the oligarchs will control the United States government.”

But Bowman exhibited the most embarrassing behavior of all, waving a stool in the air and slamming it to the ground, and joining the crowd in chanting “Cease-fire now!” In one of many tirades, Bowman yelled, “We are gonna show f–king AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] the power of the motherf–king South Bronx.” Congressman Ritchie Torres later described the profanity-laden rant as “unbecoming of a Member of Congress.”

Aside from exhibiting characteristically erratic behavior, Bowman greatly misunderstood his own district and, most of all, his base. He started his career off as a moderate toward Israel, voting in 2021 to provide the country with funding for the Iron Dome System. That vote, however, alienated him from the Democratic Socialists of America. To get back in the DSA’s good graces, he took increasingly militant anti-Israel stances. After the October 7 attacks, he turned blatantly anti-Semitic, calling reports of sexual assault during the terror attack “propaganda” and saying that there was no evidence of it, claims that he later walked back.

Bowman’s shift on Israel was a fundamental mistake when it came to his base. Polling shows that 61 percent of New York registered voters, including 54 percent of Democrats, believe that student demonstrations for Gaza crossed the line into anti-Semitism. Westchester County, making up the majority of the geography and population of Bowman’s NY-16 district, has a Jewish population of 10.5 percent. Not a great constituency for leveling threats against AIPAC.

Bowman’s focus on Gaza also diverted attention from issues his base cares about the most. Recent Siena polling shows that 62 percent of New York voters statewide are deeply concerned about the cost of living, while 79 percent believe that the migrant crisis is a serious problem. New Yorkers are tired of the unpopular Gaza protests; they want to hear about “bread-and-butter” issues that affect their everyday lives. Bowman’s obsession with the Palestinian conflict both alienated him from Jewish voters and distanced him from constituents more interested in domestic issues. For instance, Black and Hispanic voters, who make up a majority of the borough where the rally was held, are disproportionately hurting economically due to rampant inflation.

The Democratic Party establishment’s backing of Latimer, a three-decade veteran of Westchester County public life, shows that it recognizes the weakness of progressive messaging. Latimer’s mastery of retail politics carried him to victory, extending his undefeated winning streak. A 2019 City & State feature characterized him as in “constant candidate mode, feverishly filling his days with visits to Rotary Club luncheons, nursing home soirees, obscure municipal meetings, elementary schools, hotdog eating contests, church coffees and so on.” Latimer has stayed connected to voters. William O’Shaughnessy, the late longtime president of Westchester’s only community radio station (and supporter of Donald Trump) acknowledged, “Latimer has taken retail politics to its highest level. You could not work harder.”

Contrast Bowman’s rally to one held several weeks before in the South Bronx, when former President Trump spoke to between 8,000 and 10,000 attendees in Crotona Park. The rally’s speakers ranged from local community leaders to rapper Sheff G. Despite the usual tangents about his legal troubles, the former president mostly zeroed in on New York issues. His speech addressed inner-city crime, education, rebuilding the subway system, and empowering minorities to succeed economically. Trump, like Latimer, connected with residents on issues they care about most. In a final flourish, he added: “We’re going to bring prosperity back to every neighborhood in every borough of the greatest city in our land.”

With Bowman gone, the House of Representatives’ “Squad” is down a member. The remaining Squad incumbents will have to decide for themselves whether to continue down Bowman’s path or take some direction from the triumphant Latimer, or even Donald Trump. More broadly, the Democratic Party has to make that decision, too.

Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images


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