YONKERS, N.Y. ― As of late Tuesday night, there was no declared winner in the closely watched Democratic primary for New York’s 16th Congressional District, where Bronx middle school principal Jamaal Bowman is challenging Rep. Eliot Engel.
But with almost all of the in-person votes counted, Bowman held a lead of more than 25 percentage points over Engel. Absentee ballots have yet to be counted.
At about 10:30 p.m. local time, Bowman delivered a triumphant speech to supporters gathered at an outdoor riverside restaurant.
“Eliot Engel ― and I’ll say his name once ― used to say that he was a thorn in the side of Donald Trump. But you know what Donald Trump is more afraid of than anything else? A Black man with power,” he said, prompting cheers from the crowd. “So if the results continue to bear out, as they are bearing out this evening, and we get to Congress, it will be our job to hold Donald Trump accountable and to hold every elected official accountable that continues to be beholden to corporate interests, that continues to be beholden to the wealthy, and is not fighting for the poor and is not fighting for the working class in our country.”
“I am fired up!” he added. “I cannot wait to get to Congress and cause problems.”
The unclear outcome was in line with what many New York poll watchers had been predicting, given the expansion of mail-in voting in the state to minimize the public health risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) issued an executive order in March allowing New Yorkers to vote absentee without needing any excuse beyond concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.
More than 700,000 New York City residents requested absentee ballots, but the city’s bureaucracy has had trouble processing the unprecedented volume. As of Friday, 29,000 city residents had not received them.
Absentee ballots will be eligible to be counted as long as they are postmarked by Tuesday. And New York election law allows county authorities to wait as many as eight days before counting absentee ballots, raising the prospect that the final outcome won’t be known for weeks.
A spokesperson for Engel said his team was waiting on the absentee ballot results. The Bronx and Westchester County are due to begin counting them next week.
Bowman and his allies nonetheless declared victory on Wednesday.
“I’m a Black man who was raised by a single mother in a housing project,” he said in a statement. “That story doesn’t usually end in Congress But today, that 11-year old boy who was beaten by police is about to be your next representative.”