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Community News

The Map Is Settled. The Congressional Races in the Rivertowns Are Not

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February 29, 2024

By Barrett Seaman–

As politicians across the state and in Washington wrangled over the shape of New York’s congressional district map, the candidates looking to represent those districts continued to battle it out. Barring a now unlikely lawsuit, District 17 has emerged with its 2022 contours pretty much intact, with Tarrytown cloven up the middle from I-287 north to Wilson Park, its eastern portion in District 16 and the western neighborhoods still in District 17.

Rivertown villages south of I-287 all fall within District 16, where a battle royale to determine who the Democratic candidate will be is raging. First term Representative Jamaal Bowman finds himself under siege, both from challenger George Latimer, the popular County Executive, and from a third primary candidate, political neophyte Marty Dolan of Irvington.

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Following a string of controversies, beginning last year when he inexplicably set off a fire alarm in the Capitol Building, Bowman has invited criticism from his party’s centrists as well as Republicans, who censured him for the fire alarm incident. His unapologetic defense of the Palestinian cause while the war in Gaza rages has drawn accusations that he is pro-Hamas. The Latimer campaign also accused him of lying about his involvement with “known anti-Semite Norman Finkelstein,” whose book The Holocaust Industry accuses Zionists of exaggerating the Nazi genocide. The Daily Beast unearthed a blog Bowman had written some years earlier in which he seemed to question whether Arab terrorists were responsible for all the devastation of 9/1l.

On top of Latimer’s charges, Dolan ventured into Bowman’s home turf in Yonkers to accuse the congressman of putting convicted cop killer Joanne Chesimard on a “wall of heroes” in the school where he was principal. Bowman’s refusal to renounce his action won Dolan coverage in the Yonkers Times.

Bowman, who is Black, enjoys the support of the predominantly African-American communities in the southwestern quadrant of CD-16, which includes Mt. Vernon, Yonkers and parts of the Bronx. The most significant change coming out of the latest map revision is the addition to the district of Co-op City, another African-American stronghold.

Those votes, however, may not be enough to counter Latimer’s broad and deep support from elected officials—and their voters–throughout the county, due to a creditable performance during two terms in charge of Westchester. Latimer has demonstrated strength in his home base along the sound shore as well as in Greenburgh, White Plains and the largely white, middle-class communities in the center of the county–and in the rivertowns.

About 15% of county residents, concentrated in CD-16, identify as Jewish. Many have strong feelings about the war in Gaza. That poses a problem for Bowman and a potential boon to Latimer, who was urged by AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, to enter the race.

One aspect of AIPAC’s political clout, however, may produce some unwanted optics for Latimer. A campaign by an AIPAC affiliate group called Teach Action Fund was launched earlier this year to persuade independent voters and Republicans to switch party affiliation to Democrat before the February 14th cutoff. That effort has left a bad taste in the mouths of some progressive voters in the district. As first reported by USA Today and the Journal News (LoHud), more than 2,300 voters re-registered between December 1 and February 14–nearly 1,900 of them on or after January 25th, which is when the Teach Action Fund (a.k.a.#WestchesterUnited) campaign got underway.

There was nothing clandestine about the effort. Dan Mitzner, policy director for the group (and a former AIPAC official), was quoted as saying, “This election, the people on the ballot, and what they represent, have clearly ignited this community. The success of this campaign is a true testament to their passion and dedication.”

Many of the newly recruited Democrats were from the sound shore communities, but the campaign was felt in the rivertowns. One Irvington independent claims to have gotten multiple texts, calls and emails. “[#WestchesterUnited] kept trying to scare me with ‘we have to protect ourselves from the antisemitic candidates.’ I replied with ‘so who’s the antisemitic Democratic candidate that we need protection from?’ They never said.”

A Teach Action Fund poster

The Bowman campaign naturally protested. Campaign spokesman Bill Neidhardt tied the effort directly to Latimer, saying, “George Latimer should reject Republican interference in Democratic primaries, not base his campaign on it.”

Latimer’s team fired back, calling Bowman a hypocrite and citing alleged social media posts and phone calls that urged other voters to do much the same, albeit for different reasons.

The outcome of the race in CD-16 is not likely to affect the balance of power in Washington, as most political observers concede that it is a deeply blue district. Should he win, Latimer would represent a shift back to the ideological center, whereas Bowman is a recognized member of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s “Squad” of uber-progressives in the House.

That said, there are two Republican candidates, both of whom are persons of color, who will face off in their own primary in June. Madeline Brame, a resident of Bellport, Long Island, is the mother of an army veteran who was murdered by “career criminals” and not, in her view, adequately prosecuted in New York City. That drove her to abandon the Democratic party, become a Republican and go after Bowman, who, she feels, represents all the inadequacies of leftwing progressivism. She was a featured witness in Republican Congresman Jim Jordan’s New York hearings on out-of-control urban crime.

Her opponent is Chris Wright, a Georgia transplant, entrepreneur and conservative activist who founded a small business and is president of the Conservative Republican Alliance of New York. During the pandemic, according to his campaign web site, he was “a vocal opponent of the authoritarian lockdowns, shutdowns, and mandates imposed by Governors Cuomo and Hochul and Mayors DeBlasio and Adams.”

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