NEW YORK - Rep. Eliot Engel and his leading challenger Jamaal Bowman clashed repeatedly in a NY1 debate on campaign financing, ties to the district and the black experience.
Another challenger, Chris Fink, sought to interject in the fighting with his plans for job creation.
Engel, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Bowman, a Bernie Sanders-backed educator, appear locked in a fierce battle to represent the 16th District, which includes parts of the Bronx and Westchester County. The primary is June 23.
NY1 Political Anchor Errol Louis, who moderated the debate, asked the candidates if they support defunding police, a rallying cry of protesters who’ve taken to the streets nationwide to denounce police brutality.
Engel said he doesn’t want police defunded in full, but would like to see resources used for community programs and other methods of policing.
Bowman said he supports defunding the police, adding that if their resources were used toward creating jobs, there would be no need for large and militarized departments.
Fink, a tax attorney, said he backs demilitarization.
The conversation turned acrimonious over the notion of whether all Americans are in the same boat despite arriving on different ships, a reference to a famed quote by Rep. John Lewis.
“We’re not in the same boat,” Bowman said. “People of African descent are more likely to live in poverty, they’re more likely to be killed by the police, they’re more likely to be incarcerated, more likely to live in areas where housing has been neglected.
Engel responded with a key account in Lewis’s long history of fighting for civil rights.
“I was quoting John Lewis, who back in the ’60s in Alabama on that Pettus Bridge, where he was beaten senseless and almost dead,” Engel said, adding, "I respect him and he’s supporting me for reelection.”
Engel criticized Bowman for independent expenditures benefiting his bid via the Justice Democrats. Bowman slammed Engel in turn for taking corporate PAC money.
Bowman said Engel misled his constituents by advertising on social media that he’d be present at a food-distribution event at the peak of the COVID crisis when he wasn’t physically there.
Engel said Bowman is newer to the district and wasn’t as well known as he, a lifelong Bronx resident and the “mayor of Riverdale.”
Recent developments in the race include this Engel remark, caught on a microphone when he was seeking a turn to speak at a news conference: “If I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care.” They also include endorsements for Bowman by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, who withdrew her support of Engel.