We’re one press conference away from a big announcement by County Executive George Latimer. Will he challenge the U.S. Representative, Jamaal Bowman, in a 2024 Democratic Primary election? If he moves forward, this race will be, in essence, an opinion poll about the Israel-Hamas War.
I’ve interviewed each of these individuals on WVOX-AM radio and on my vlog more than once. They are both affable and very capable people; however, their election positioning will pivot upon the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Neither one has much experience in geopolitics or international diplomacy. Nevertheless, if Latimer decides to run for Congress against Bowman, then Westchester is in for a cathartic analysis of just how far left it really wants to be.
The political career of George Latimer is a steady flow of incremental but meaningful motions. He has a way of fixing things that have broken down, like swimming pools, construction projects and labor contracts. He stair-stepped his way from the Rye City Council to the County Board of Legislators to the New York State Legislature. Any politician would want Latimer’s political resume. He has not lost an election, ever. He is 69.
Jamaal Bowman was a New York City middle school principal, and his entry point in politics is his current role as a Member of the United States House of Representatives, representing parts of the northern Bronx and southern Westchester County. His ascent aligned with public outrage over the police murder of George Floyd and a political leftward tilt within the Democratic Party that accelerated when Trump beat Clinton in 2016. Bowman hit the right notes at the right time. Ultra-progressives and traditional liberals found their guy, and he plowed through two election cycles with comfortable margins of victory. Bowman is 47.
Battlefront #1: Redistricting
Before we get to Primary Election Day, the gateway battle may be redrawing the district lines. It’s still under review by the Court of Appeals, and a new set of lines, perhaps less favorable to Bowman, are possible. The Chair of the Independent Redistricting Committee is none other than Latimer’s Deputy County Executive, Ken Jenkins. Jenkins was appointed to this role by Latimer’s former distinguished colleague, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Majority Leader of the New York State Senate. If the state level Democratic Party wants Bowman out, choosing the right voters could be their most powerful weapon.
Rage Against (and within) the Machine
In the normal course of an election cycle, the Westchester County Democratic Committee, and the Bronx County Democratic Committee turn District Leaders loose to work on behalf of the incumbent office holder, in this case Bowman. That apparatus brings brains, brawn, and money to the campaign. It’s not clear what will happen if Latimer is in the race, but party bifurcation is inevitable. Regardless, we can expect to see Latimer smiling in pictures along with the boldface names of New York’s haute politique, including the Black and Latino Mayors and legislators he’s supported through the years. Latimer may also run on an independent ballot line, as an outreach to a wider variety of voters. Bowman will lean on a Working Families Party endorsement and his now severed alliance with Democratic Socialists of America, to pack in every last vote.
Election Day Daze
If a redistricting court brawl drags on, then Primary Election may be held on a different day from the rest of the primaries in 2024. Stanley Schein, the famous Bronx political fixer, predicted this on my podcast in October. This twist could help either candidate, depending on their respective strategy. It’s super hard and expensive to get out the vote for primary elections, and moving the date buries the bounty even deeper. Plus, if the district lines change, Bowman could find himself standing on front porches in northern Westchester where he has not campaigned ever before, but where Latimer has.
Bowman will get support from Justice Democrats PAC. This is the fundraising arm of the coalition that created The Squad. Do not underestimate Justice Democrats. These people know how to run primaries. In fact, it’s their big move. Rather than compete against Republicans, they tend to feed on white, aging male Democrats, incumbent and non-incumbent alike. In 2020, Eliot Engel’s team slept right through it. Justice Democrats don’t win every time, but their playbook is fairly easy to follow if you are attuned to it. They tap into populist zeitgeist, and they have the best web and digital marketing of any campaigns on the Internet. Bolt on a fundraising infrastructure, a crisp wedge issue, and you have a recipe for primary election success. It only works in deep blue districts. Their stage is set for 2024.
Do not underestimate Justice Democrats.
Who Are These People?
Bowman opposed the extreme left policy of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanction against Israel) and earlier this year he caught ire for hopping on a pro-Israel J Street-funded trip to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories. Then, there he was in front of Yonkers City Hall on October 27, 2023, hollering into a megaphone at a pro-Palestine rally, “I am ashamed to be in Congress with our President not valuing every single life.” Jamaal Bowman is Black, a populist, and he is comfortable taking a shot at the institutions he represents. When he sees injustice, he calls it out. Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times writes of Bowman, “…he is, for better or worse, very sincere.”
George Latimer is white, Catholic, and firmly pro-Israel. His multicultural competence is evident in his narrative and his years of work on behalf of all people, all over the county. The racial and ethnic diversity within his County Executive staff is notable. He has roots in numerous Westchester communities, including Mount Vernon, which is rich in Black Democratic primary voters. We will have to see whether all that is enough to win a primary in which every single spoken word can be redeployed as a destructive object, on Instagram.
Latimer affirmed his stance at the Westchester Stands with Israel Rally in White Plains on October 10. “Democracies are imperfect—ours is imperfect, Israel’s is imperfect. But if we do not back democracy here, we will see democracy fail in every corner of the world.” His words caught the attention of 26 rabbis in Congressional District 16 seeking a “course correction” from Bowman’s time in Congress.
Other pressing national issues will be sidelined. Who represents Westchester in Congress will hinge on one single, intractable geo-political problem. It will be Zionists versus non-Zionists, BDS’ers versus two-state advocates, secular versus religious people, anti-semites versus Jews, and AIPAC dollars versus Justice Democrats’ dollars. Westchester’s Democratic primary voters will pick a U.S. Representative. What happens next?