Will New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman lose his seat in next week’s primary?

Hi! Today we are witnessing a political brawl that has become a high-stakes battle for the future of the Democratic Party. Next, I’ll take you behind the scenes of a photo shoot featuring Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s ravens. My colleague Nicholas Fandos, who covers New York politics, begins. -Jess Bidgood

This time last year, Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York seemed to finally have found his groove. His head-to-head confrontations with conservative Republicans made him a cable news darling. He considered running for mayor of New York.

Next Tuesday, when New York holds its House primary, he may be looking for a new job.

The rapid turnaround has captivated the political world, and not just because Bowman would be the first member of the House’s closely watched left-wing “squad” to lose his seat. Its primary also became one of this election year’s clearest windows on the fracture of the Democratic coalition on Gaza and how far left the party should go.

Bowman’s troubles began last fall, when he began speaking out in the days after October 7 as one of Congress’ leading critics of the war between Israel and Hamas. . His position – in favor of a ceasefire and against US military aid – has galvanized young Democrats and the left wing of the party.

But in a heavily Jewish neighborhood, it also helped foment a backlash that led Jewish leaders to recruit a formidable primary challenger, George Latimer; prompted a pro-Israel lobby to inject a record $15 million into the race; and ultimately sparked a match under old tensions over race, class, and ideology.

Bowman, who is black, has repeatedly accused his white opponent of racism. He says his opponents are trying to silence him because of his positions on the war, but also because his policies pose a threat to the business world and the political establishment.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders parachuted in to try to save him.

But this time, it seems the establishment has the upper hand. Latimer is a well-liked middle-of-the-road liberal. He pursued a broader case, casting the outgoing president as an attention-seeking sideshow whose views are out of step with the district, which includes parts of the Bronx and Westchester County. Polls suggest voters in this region might agree, although reliable public surveys are rare.

Whatever the outcome, Democrats on both sides agree that none of this is good news for them. The party is struggling to piece together the ideologically and demographically diverse coalition that helped elect President Biden.

“If Jamaal Bowman loses, it threatens to demoralize the very base we need to build in November,” Ocasio-Cortez, who is opposing both Biden and Bowman, told me this week.

Bowman, a gregarious former college principal, is no stranger to intraparty conflict. He won his seat four years ago by upsetting an older, more conservative incumbent in a Democratic primary rocked by the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd.

He arrived in Washington as a walking symbol of the left’s rise and clashed with Democratic leaders on issues as diverse as Biden’s infrastructure bill and attempts to ban TikTok.

Still, Bowman seemed poised for re-election last fall — until the war between Israel and Hamas drove a stark divide within the Democratic Party.

Other politicians in similar constituencies, sensing choppy political waters, fell back on carefully worded statements or stuck to the middle of their party. Bowman dove headfirst into the conflict.

He framed his opposition to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza, where tens of thousands of civilians have died, including many children, in moral terms.

“You have to understand that the reason I ran for office in the first place is because kids in the Bronx were being killed, whether by suicide or by each other, and no one was talking about the trauma,” Mr. Bowman. me recently.

But his opponents – including those who supported him in previous elections – say his attacks on Israel have gone too far, sometimes veering into anti-Semitic tropes.

He called for a ceasefire just days after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, at a time when Israel was just beginning to fight back. At one point, Bowman was filmed on a video call reporting that Hamas had sexually abused Israeli women during its attack “propaganda.” (He later stated that he believed the documented claims.)

In response, a super PAC affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee unleashed the largest outside spending campaign in its history, or that of any other group, for that matter.

The ads rarely focused on the war itself, favoring issues of interest to the broader Democratic base. Most of them criticized Bowman for voting against Biden’s infrastructure bill and debt limit deal, describing the congressman as an agent of “controversy, chaos and conspiracy” .

Rather than tone down his rhetoric, Bowman engaged in a fight with AIPAC, arguing that the pro-Israel lobby is laundering money from Republican donors and distorting his chances in the race.

But Bowman was deeply vulnerable even before the group began spending, not least for reasons of his own making.

Last fall, he pulled a fire alarm in a House office building, he said, hoping to open a locked door as he ran toward the Capitol. But there was no fire. His actions briefly threw Congress into chaos and led to a misdemeanor charge that his opponents exploited in advertisement after advertisement.

Opposition researchers have discovered old blog posts and poetry mixed with conspiracy theories about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

And at a time when other politicians rely on trusted surrogates at home, Bowman has received surprisingly little help. It was Latimer, the Westchester County executive, who won the support of nearly every local Democratic party, including in Yonkers, Bowman’s hometown.

Several prominent Democratic elected officials and the head of Westchester County’s main business council told me they had barely heard of Bowman during his four years in office. (Bowman’s defenders say this is partly because he prioritized poorer black and brown communities over wealthier, whiter suburbs.)

Latimer, on the other hand, is omnipresent in his home county. A recent Politico article recently referred to him as “Dear from the New York Suburbs.”

He’s also put his foot in his mouth on several occasions, making comments about race that seem, at best, generationally out of touch. But many voters who spoke to me seemed eager to embrace Latimer’s campaign’s core proposition: a reliable, drama-free liberal vote.

Rep. Ritchie Torres, an Afro-Latino Democrat from New York elected alongside Bowman in 2020, summed up his colleague’s problem by referencing an old Biden joke about how Rudolph W. Giuliani made 9/11 the refrain of his presidential campaign years later. .

“Jamaal Bowman’s campaign is ‘a noun, a verb and AIPAC,'” said Torres, who has close ties to the group. “His campaign has done nothing but scapegoat AIPAC, rather than recognizing its own role in losing the trust of its voters. »

BEHIND THE PHOTO

New York Times photographer Ruth Fremson has been covering politics since 1992. She’s seen some things. But never before had she seen a presidential candidate try — and repeatedly fail — to lure his pet raven to participate in a photo shoot.

That’s what happened in Los Angeles the other week, when Ruth traveled with Rebecca Davis O’Brien for her story about independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s most feisty companions. This hard-earned photo has Kennedy leaning forward in a patio chair, looking a little defeated as one of his rather tame crows reluctantly accepts one of the many steak scraps littering the patio.

I asked Ruth to tell us about it. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.

Have you ever photographed crows before?

No, he was one of my least cooperative subjects. And that sets the crows apart from Kennedy himself, because he was particularly easy to photograph. Usually, candidates are surrounded by managers and employees, people who worry about how their boss will be perceived. Kennedy was just wide open: here’s my house, here’s my office, here’s my taxidermy turtle. He said that when it died, he kept it in the freezer for two years before stuffing it.

This is a really strange detail. But I guess it was all strange.

Many people might think that trying to tame crows is a bit much. I can see other candidates’ staff advising against sharing this with the world. But Kennedy seemed very comfortable with his eccentricities. He casually mentioned that he had an emu in Rebecca. And he doesn’t even think it’s unusual!

RIGHT. So Kennedy threw some meat on the terrace to make the crows come down from their tree. And they didn’t have it. What did you do?

At one point, Kennedy said my cameras were making the birds nervous and suggested I come into the house. It was stupid. When I came out, he scolded me and I reminded him that I couldn’t photograph the crows if I couldn’t see them. Then I tried to hide as much as possible so I could photograph them without disturbing them. It was all cloak and dagger.

Suitable for crows.

I crouched on stone steps and photographed through the plants. Kennedy made a crow call to get them out of the tree. Finally, a crow came down. For me, it was a moment of panic. It was not an ideal composition. You can drive a truck between Kennedy and this crow. But I couldn’t move, for fear of scaring the crow, so that was the best we could get.

Which humans have not cooperated with your photographs?

Susan Sontag. I feel like people aren’t afraid of me as a photographer in general, except for her maybe.

Thanks for reading! I’ll come back Monday. -I ss

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