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Latimer defeats Bowman in historic primary for NY-16

Westchester County Executive George Latimer speaks with press at his Election Night watch party in White Plains Tuesday.
Jesse King
Westchester County Executive George Latimer speaks with press at his Election Night watch party in White Plains Tuesday.

In a result garnering national attention, Westchester County Executive George Latimer came out on top in the Democratic primary for New York’s 16th Congressional District Tuesday, unseating Congressman Jamaaal Bowman after a fiery campaign.

The former state legislator and term-limited county executive beat Bowman with roughly 58 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results from the state Board of Elections. In front of a watch party of about 500 supporters in White Plains, Latimer called for unity and civility going forward, casting himself as a moderate candidate who can heal partisan divides in Washington.

“There are good men and women in Washington who think like we do, and we need to find each other and link with each other," said Latimer. "We have to look at the arguments of the far right and far left, and say, ‘You cannot destroy this country with your rhetoric and your arguments.’”

The bitter, high-profile primary put fractures in the Democratic Party on full display. Bowman, who is part of a larger group of progressive House Democrats called the “The Squad,” lost the nomination for a third term despite endorsements and rallies over the weekend with big names like Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Both campaigns spent a total of more than $24 million on ads, making it the most expensive House primary on record, according to AdImpact.

The defining issue of the race was the war in Gaza, where more than 37,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli military strikes ever since the terrorist organization Hamas killed roughly 1,100 Israeli citizens on October 7. Bowman has repeatedly called for a ceasefire, and roiled voters in his heavily-Jewish district by accusing Israel of genocide and dismissing claims that Hamas committed sexual violence as “propaganda.”

"We need a permanent ceasefire right now, and we need food to get into Gaza today," said Bowman at a recent debate hosted by the League of Women Voters. "Our taxpayer dollars are going toward supporting a famine. This is unacceptable.”

On the flip side, Latimer’s campaign received at least $14 million in funding raised by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. Bowman and others repeatedly accused Latimer of bending to AIPAC, as well as racism, over the course of the campaign — claims Latimer has denied. Bowman, meanwhile, has repeatedly denied allegations of antisemitism.

Speaking with reporters Tuesday night, Latimer maintained his stance on the Israel-Hamas war lines up with that of the majority of the Democratic Party. He says he supports a two-state solution in the Middle East, but not an immediate ceasefire, arguing Hamas can’t be at the table when both sides come together to negotiate a peaceful way forward.

Asked if he felt AIPAC was critical for his win, Latimer downplayed the endorsement slightly.

“Any successful campaign has lots of different components that work," he said. "That was one of them, but it wasn’t the only one.”

Tuesday’s watch party was heavily attended by members of the local Jewish community and labor unions, like the Transport Workers Union. Carlos Bernabel, division chair representing Westchester County’s Bee-Line Bus service for TWU Local 100, says he supports Latimer for the help he gave bus workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Latimer is very good to us," says Bernabel. "He did the right thing, supporting us with the stuff that we need. Keeping the buses clean, and keeping us safe.”

Scarsdale resident Karen Kosowsky, meanwhile, says she feels Latimer is a unifying figure.

“It feels great to know that the candidate who wants to unify people and represent all of his constituents won," she smiles. "He deserved it, and won, and I’m just really thrilled about it.”

The 16th District, which includes Westchester County and part of the Bronx, is considered by some to be a Democratic stronghold. Latimer will face Republican Miriam Flisser, a pediatrician and former mayor of Scarsdale, in November. Bowman will still be on the ballot on the Working Families Party line. In a defiant concession speech, Bowman said the fight is just beginning.

“We should be outraged when a superPAC of dark money can spend $20 million to brainwash people into believing something that isn’t true. We should be outraged about that,” he said.

Latimer’s victory is just the latest entry in a charmed political career. Now 70, the county executive reflected on his start on the Rye City Council nearly four decades ago before stops on the county Board of Legislators, state Assembly, and state Senate.

In other unofficial results across the Hudson Valley, Assemblymember Sarahana Shrestha defeated former legislative staffer Gabi Madden to win the Democratic nomination in New York’s 103rd district. Democratic Assemblymember Didi Barrett defeated Columbia County Supervisor Claire Cousin in the 106th District. And Assemblymember MaryJane Shimsky turned back a challenge from her predecessor, Tom Abinanti, in the Democratic Primary for New York’s 92nd District.

Jesse King is the host of WAMC's national program on women's issues, "51%," and the station's bureau chief in the Hudson Valley. She has also produced episodes of the WAMC podcast "A New York Minute In History."