Rep. Eliot Engel, running for reelection to his 17th term in Congress, was caught Tuesday on a hot mic asking Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. for a turn to speak at a news conference.
“If I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care,” Engel tells Diaz about speaking at the event. He repeats, “If I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care.”
Engel, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester. He’s facing perhaps his toughest reelection fight yet in this month’s Democratic primary.
Diaz was leading a news conference in the Bronx calling for peaceful protests in the wake of violence that has rocked the city and country after George Floyd’s killing. Several city, state and elected officials were in attendance.
Diaz is heard explaining to Engel that there are many people slated to speak and indicating the congressman can’t be in the lineup.
The borough president says after Engel’s remark that he wouldn’t care if he weren’t facing a primary challenge, “Don’t do that to me.” Diaz says many of the attendees have primaries.
The congressman responded to the incident in a statement.
“In the context of running for re-election, I thought it was important for people to know where I stand, that's why I asked to speak. Of course I care deeply about what's happening in this country, that's what I wanted to convey. I love the Bronx, grew up in the Bronx and lived here all my life. I would not have tried to impose on the Borough President if I didn't think it was important," his statement reads.
Tuesday’s event in the Bronx was the first time Engel has been seen in public in the area for many months. His district includes New Rochelle, an early epicenter of the coronavirus crisis. But he’s largely remained at his Potomac, Maryland home outside Washington, D.C.
Engel’s progressive challengers have consolidated against him. Andom Ghebreghiorgis dropped out of the race Monday and endorsed Jamaal Bowman, the leading challenger.
Bowman, an education activist and former middle-school principal, has the backing of the Justice Democrats, Democracy for America and the Working Families Party.
But Engel’s most recent federal campaign finance filing shows he has nearly five times more cash on hand than Bowman.