July 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Bronx-Westchester Eyes Future Without Engel

 Based on in-person voting, 32-year congressional veteran Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) appeared to be trailing his challenger Jamal Bowman by more than 10,000 votes in New York’s 16th district. The district currently includes River­dale, sections of the North Bronx and all of Southern Westchester. At press time, record numbers of absentee ballots had yet to be counted, so the primary results of June 23 had not been certified by the New York State Board of Elections.

Long-term Congresswoman Nita Lowey (NY-18), representing Northern Westchester, is set to retire, as is veteran Congressman Jose Serrano (NY-15) of the West Bronx. With the election of three freshmen, and with a Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez second-term likely, these local counties are losing more than 90 years of seniority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Dr Ben Chouake, NORPAC’s president, expressed mixed feelings. “The election is not over in Engel’s district. They are still waiting for the absentee ballots.”

Joseph Rafalowicz of New Rochelle, a member of AIPAC’s National Council and previously chair of AIPAC’s Westchester Council, noted that though Engel’s loss is a huge one for the district, we must “keep in mind that Congress will still have an overwhelming pro-Israel majority. Any member of AIPAC and the pro-Israel community would have preferred Engel, a champion of our interests for many years, and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, to have been here.”

Should Bowman be elected, Chouake said that NORPAC would plan a discussion with him.

“Is he going to take an approach that he is a member of ‘The Squad’ or is he going to take an approach that represents all of his constituents,” Chouake said. “We will see––he might feel indebted to those who got him elected.”

Elliot Forchheimer, Chief Executive Officer of the Westchester Jewish Council, stated, “Congressman Engel has been a supporter of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. As Americans, we are very supportive of the U.S.-Israel relationship and we hope that all members of Congress, including whoever represents Districts 16, 17 and 18 will respect that relationship. Whoever wins, we will engage with them as our member of Congress.” Westchester Jewish Council is a 501c group. They do not participate in any electioneering; they encourage Westchester residents to vote as they see fit.

Rafalowicz added, “In normal years, all freshman members of Congress are invited by AIPAC to join a trip to Israel. I am sure, at some point, they will invite (Bowman). These trips are very effective in telling people what the situation is on the ground and, overall, the trip is successful in affecting their views on Israel.”

If Engel is, in fact, replaced in Congress, Rafalowicz is reassured that, “the two leading contenders for the chairmanship of Foreign Affairs are Brad Sherman and Gregory Meeks. Both have a strong track record on Israel. The chairmanship will stay with a very pro-Israel member of Congress. AIPAC will continue to do what is always does––advocate for a bipartisan pro-Israel stance in Congress.”

Chouake added, “It is a loss. Engel was chair of Foreign Affairs, and he knows everyone in the world. It is a loss for the district. The district was represented by one of the most senior leaders in the House, and he had tremendous ability to help his district. He put his district’s issues on many agendas. He’s a very effective legislator and held a lot of respect from his colleagues. If he were to call the President, the President would pick up the phone. If Bowman calls the White House, he will get someone on the phone, but not the president. You need stature for that. Overall, he is a mensch and an incredible, modest person for his accomplishments.“

Chouake theorized that Engel’s presumptive loss was probably caused by a number of factors. “This was a perfect storm. You had the COVID virus keeping all the older people out of polling places. That is a main area of Engel’s support. Maybe they didn’t use the absentee ballots or know how to download them on the computer.”

Further, Chouake continued, “Even though the Congressman had the endorsements of some of the leading African-Americans in the country who know him and respect his work on their issues, there was a very strong ethnic pride vote, at a time when the country is in turmoil after the death of Mr. Floyd, combined with the current protest movement. People were inspired to go out and vote. Bowman was supported by a national movement looking to get out a pro-Israel Jewish chairman of Foreign Affairs. Keep in mind the margin of victory is about 10,000 votes.”

When asked if voters would consider supporting another candidate against Bowman, Chouake answered, “In a presidential election year, you have to be practical about putting resources into an election. You have to assess if it is winnable. We just finished the primary in New Jersey and successfully defended a number of seats. The number one challenge was in New Jersey’s fifth Congressional district. Congressman Josh Gottheimer won overwhelmingly.”

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