The 30-year congressman Eliot Engel appeared on shaky ground in Tuesday night’s 16th Congressional District debate. Progressive Jamaal Bowman finally had his chance and he did not waste it.
The debate was recorded Monday before Engel said to Borough President Ruben Diaz on Tuesday “If I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care.” Engel’s primary home is in Potomac, Maryland, where he spends most of his time.
BronxNet, in partnership with Schneps Media, the Bronx Times Reporter, the Riverdale Press and the League of Women Voters sponsored the debate. BronxTalk Host Gary Axelbank moderated the debate.
On Friday, Bowman got a big boost as another progressive challenger Andom Ghebreghiorgis dropped out threw his support to Bowman.
The duo was joined by lawyer Christopher Fink and former cop Sammy Ravelo. Engel has spent 31 years in Congress and chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee but the trio of new comers feel his time is up.
Bowman, who was arrested when he was younger, said that he felt the pain of Black people throughout the country. He is a member of this community but questioned where Engel has been.
Bowman said the country needs to focus on restorative justice and holding police accountable. He said does Engel apologize for being in favor of militarizing the cops.
Engel said he has been in Washington, D.C. fighting against President Donald Trump and was part of group that impeached him. He said he has never seen Bowman anywhere in the Bronx. He noted racism did not begin with Trump but has existed for decades.
“It [racism] impacts all of us,” Engel said. “I have many Black brothers and sisters. I feel their pain.”
Ravelo, a cop for 26 years, claimed he knew what needed to be done to fix the civil unrest. He stressed that blaming the police is not the answer.
“There are things we need to change within the law enforcement community,” Ravelo commented.
Fink told his opponents he has a child who is African American and his son doesn’t understand why so many people hate black people.
“The systematic racism in our country has to end,” Fink said.
He said Minnesota needs to expedite the trial of former cop Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd and charge the other officers now*. According to Fink, people like Amy Cooper, who called the police on a black man in Central Park, should also be put in jail.
“We need a plan, we need action,” Fink emphasized.
Economy and Poverty
Born and raised in the district, Engel said knows the financial challenges the people face. He claimed he passed laws to help his district, brings home “the bacon” and is the right man for the job.
“I’ve been around for a long time,” he said.
Bowman disagreed. He founded and is the principal at Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School at 3441 Steenwick Ave. He said he knows the people in the community, unlike Engel, who lives in another state.
“During the pandemic he said he was going to be here giving out supplies and he lied about it while he was in Maryland at his home,” Bowman said. “Despite his district becoming the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, Congressman Eliot Engel had lied about attending an event in his district to provide residents with masks and supplies when he was at his home in Maryland.”
As a former attorney, Fink said there needs to be a more progressive tax code and there should not be a universal basic income. Instead, he said the government needs to create jobs, offer better job training and fix the crumbling infrastructures.
“I want to get things done the way I have my whole career,” he said.
Green New Deal
All four gentlemen voiced their support for the Green New Deal and Engel is a co-sponsor of the bill. Fink noted that the people most affected by COVID-19 were those in places with bad air pollution like the Bronx and that must change.
Bowman said the government needs to fund renewable energy and Ravelo stressed the country must reenter the Paris Climate Accord, which Trump pulled out of.
Fink has lived in the district for 28 years and is prepared to help the constituents.
“Now is the time to fix our broken roads,” he said. “Now is the time to focus on climate change. We need a leader who is going to fight Trump.”
Bowman again stressed that Engel is an absentee congressman. The Bronx needs new leadership and Bowman is the man for the job.
“Where is [Congressman Engel] fighting with fire in his belly for the needs of the people in this district?” Bowman said. “He hasn’t been a fighter, he hasn’t been present.”
Ravelo said the Bronx can continue with the status quo of Engel or choose who someone who knows about law enforcement firsthand.
“I hope to be that t choice,” he said.
Engel said he has a proven track record and is one of the 10 most efficient Democratic lawmakers in the country.
“You don’t get that rating because you aren’t doing your job,” he said.
*Editor’s note: At press time, the other three officers involved in George Floyd’s murder were arrested and charged.