After Tuesday’s primary elections, the leader in New York’s 16th Congressional District has declared victory over longtime Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel. Mondaire Jones, though, is more circumspect about his lead in New York’s 17th Congressional District, where 16-term Congresswoman Nita Lowey did not seek re-election. There are thousands of absentee ballots to be counted.
Progressive Jamaal Bowman leads Congressman Engel, who is chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, nearly 61 percent to Engel’s 34 percent. That’s according to the New York State Board of Elections. The two other candidates, Chris Fink and Sammy Ravelo, drew less than 2 percent each. Bowman, who spoke outdoors in Yonkers Tuesday night, was endorsed by Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren; Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders; and the New York Times.
“Eliot Engel, and I’ll say his name once, used to say that he was a thorn in the side of Donald Trump. But you know what Donald Trump is more afraid of than anything else? A Black man with power,” says Bowman. “That is what Donald Trump is afraid of.”
Trump is trailing Joe Biden in the latest polls.
“So I’m excited. I am happy. I am fired up,” Bowman says. “I cannot wait to get to Congress and cause problems for the people in there who have been maintaining a status quo that is literally killing our children.”
Wednesday morning, Bowman, an educator who was recruited by the Justice Democrats, declared victory, saying it would be nearly impossible for Engel to take the lead from absentee ballots. An Engel campaign spokesman says any declarative statement on the outcome of the race is premature and undermines the democratic process. The Engel campaign will continue to closely monitor the collection and counting of absentee ballots and recount of the voting machines over the next week.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo endorsed Engel, and spoke with WAMC’s Alan Chartock Wednesday. Cuomo says Engel consistently responded to his calls for assistance and delivered results when he could.
“I knew he had a very difficult race, yes, but seniority is very important in Congress, and we need all the power and clout we can get in Congress,” says Cuomo. “We need federal funding. This federal government has declared war on the state of New York.”
The 16th District includes parts of the Bronx and Westchester County. Meantime, in the 17th District that contains all of Rockland County and part of Westchester, Mondaire Jones leads with nearly 43 percent of the in-person vote.
“I am feeling elated that Democrats in New York’s 17th Congressional District all throughout Rockland and all throughout Westchester gave me a commanding lead, and, I think, have nominated a champion for working people in this district,” Jones says. "And I’m so, so grateful to the community that raised me that they decided to do that in what is a crowded race where I was up against someone who was spending literally $5 million to win this nomination.”
He’s referring to Adam Schleifer, a former federal prosecutor who worked on the college admission scandal dubbed Varsity Blues. Schleifer is currently runner-up, with close to 20 percent of the vote. He believes he is in striking distance.
“We think that basically there are 30,000 votes in and 50,000 votes to go. So that tells me that, in every sense, right now we’re in second place, but there’s every possibility that that could change,” says Schleifer. “I think we got to let every vote count. That’s what matters most not only for our campaign, but for democracy.”
Jones, if elected, would be the first openly gay Black man in Congress. He stops short of declaring victory, but expects to be the Democratic nominee.
“I am already feeling victorious. And I think that there’s no way that the absentee ballots would be able to change the outcome of last night given the sizeable lead,” says Jones. “I mean, I have more than twice the amount of support in yesterday’s in-person voting than Mr. Schleifer. And that’s even with a bloc vote that was delivered to him by religious leaders, which will not be reflected in the absentee ballots. So, if anything, I expect to grow my lead once absentee ballots are counted.”
Democratic Commissioner Kristin Stavisky says the Rockland County Board of Elections issued 22,636 absentee ballots, of which 7,489 have been returned. She says another 12 trays of mail will be checked in Thursday. And she expects to open and start counting the ballots July 7.
Schleifer’s opponents took aim at his wealth and connections. He’s the son of the CEO of Tarrytown-based biotech company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.
“I think there was a lot of cynical politicking that brought out basically what people hate most about politics and politicians in the campaign, and there’s no way around that. But I do think I’m going to continue to do what I’ve done my whole career, which is make real change and progress for real people, and I know that the hardworking scientists at Regeneron are going to do the same as they hope to cure coronavirus,” Schleifer says. “And I sure hope that everyone in the campaign who felt it convenient to attack my campaign for that, keeps those hardworking scientists in mind who risk their lives to try to save all of ours, and I sure know they’ll be at the front of the line God forbid if they ever need a lifesaving or life-changing treatment.”
State Senator David Carlucci is in third place, with just north of 12 percent. He issued a statement Wednesday thanking his supporters and congratulating Jones, saying Jones is likely to win a hard-fought race. In the Republican primary in the 17th District, Maureen McArdle Schulman garnered 66 percent of the in-person votes over Yehudis Gottesfeld’s nearly 18 percent. In the 19th District Republican primary, Ola Hawatmeh leads Kyle Van de Water by 475 votes.