DECISION 2020

Primary 2016 redux: Clinton backs Engel, Sanders supports Bowman

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Democrats had to choose between former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016's presidential primary — and now the two are head-to-head again in a much different primary in 2020: The one deciding the fate of New York's 16th Congressional District.

Clinton has thrown her support behind incumbent Eliot Engel, while Sanders is backing Engel's biggest challenger in the congressional primary, Jamaal Bowman.

"I have worked with Eliot Engel as First Lady, as senator from New York, and as Secretary of State," Clinton said in a statement Monday. "Every step of the way, his No. 1 priority has always remained the same: Delivering for his constituents."

Just last week, Sanders had nothing but kind words to say about Bowman, a Bronx middle school principal who has many observers believing he might be able to pull off an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-style upset over a long-entrenched congressman.

"Jamaal understands that low-income families are locked out of opportunity and a decent life due to a system that is rigged to benefit the wealthy," Sanders said, in a release. "In Congress, he will lead the fight for investing in our public schools, ending mass incarceration, and addressing the housing crisis. He is someone we can trust to be a powerful advocate for a progressive agenda in Congress."

While Sanders focused on what Bowman can do, Clinton shared many of the things she said Engel already has done.

"Eliot was instrumental in helping to pass the Violence Against Women Act and the Children's Health Insurance Program, and has stood up again and again to the Trump administration's attempt to slash both," Clinton said. "We worked side-by-side to bring billions in federal aid to New York after the horror of Sept. 11. And as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, he has helped hold this administration accountable, including by uncovering the illegal firing of the inspector general, secure our elections against foreign interference, and protect dedicated foreign service officers from political retribution."

The primary race for Engel's seat is beginning to get broader, national attention, based on Engel's high-profile position and the fact that he's among the top 15 most senior congressional members in the House. Yet, Engel has had some missteps recently, including a report he had spent most of the coronavirus pandemic at his home in Maryland, and then once he returned, was caught on a hot mic insisting to Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., that he'd like to speak at an impromptu news conference, adding "if I didn't have a primary, I wouldn't care."

The latter gaffe helped push Bowman to a $750,000 June — bringing his total raised funds to $1.5 million, according to his campaign. But Bowman isn't immune to negative reports, either. Critics have pointed out lower academic results at the school he leads in Eastchester — Cornerstone Academy for Social Action — and an open letter from Hebrew Institute of Riverdale rabbi Avi Weiss, who fears Bowman is not a strong enough supporter of Israel.

Democratic voters are set to decide June 23 who will represent the ticket in the general election — Engel, Bowman, Chris Fink or Sammy Ravelo — with the winner expected to be a shoo-in for November. Andom Ghebreghiorgis will also be on the primary ballot although he withdrew from the race earlier this month and backed Bowman. 

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