Principal Running for Congress to Challenge Incumbent in Democratic Primary

By Denisa R. Superville — June 18, 2019 2 min read
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A Bronx, N.Y., principal is running for Congress and is challenging a long-time incumbent for the seat in the 2020 Democratic primary.

Jamaal Bowman, who has also worked as a teacher, guidance counselor and dean of students, announced Tuesday that he was taking on Rep. Eliot Engel, who represents parts of the New York City borough of the Bronx and Westchester County. Bowman, a 20-year education veteran who was trained by the New York City-based New Leaders program, highlighted his educator credentials and experience in his opening pitch to voters.

Bowman is being backed by Justice Democrats, the same liberal group that helped Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, topple a longtime incumbent in New York in 2018.

Bowman, the founding principal of Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School, a traditional public school in the northeastern section of the Bronx, said he is running for a new vision for America, where everyone is included.

“It’s not unjust, it’s not segregated, it doesn’t have mass shootings, and kids OD-ing on drugs, and people struggling to survive...,” he said in the video. “It’s a country rooted in our humanity.”

Bowman said he and his wife, who is an elementary school teacher, “face the most damning challenges every day.”

“We work with children and families who suffer from poverty, asthma from pollution, homelessness, lack of healthcare,” he said.

While more than 100 teachers ran for office in the 2018 electioncycle, only a handful of school leaders did the same.

The American Federation of School Administrators, a national union that represents about 14,000 school administrators—principals and other school leaders—has been encouraging principals to seek higher office, particularly since they know firsthand the impacts of policies made in statehouses and in Washington, usually by lawmakers who have not worked in schools.

Bowman told The New York Timesthat many of the ills his families face—including “poverty, health care, mental health issues, asthma from pollution"—were borne from policies that have their roots in the nation’s capital.

He said he is running a campaign that calls for more investments in public schools, saying that “we need to put public schools back in the hands of our teachers and parents"; free public college, Medicare for all, universal childcare, criminal justice reform, and the Green New Deal, a plan to combat climate change and economic inequality championed by Ocasio-Cortez.

Rep. Engel, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee, has been in congress since 1989. He told The New York Times that the appreciated the energy that the new members elected in 2018 brought to Congress. The paper also quoted him as saying: “I think we’re doing the people we represent and the country a disservice by focusing on 2020 primaries when we have so much to do right now in Washington.”

Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School has about 260 students, nearly all of whom are students of color. Black students comprise 64 percent of the enrollment, and 85 percent are low-income, according to New York state data from the 2017-18 school year.


A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.