The race to represent New York’s newly redrawn 16th district – now one of the most Jewish congressional districts in the United States – has had a number of inconsistencies and consistencies this election cycle. The common refrain from lower Westchester was a strong dislike for far-left wing “Squad” member Rep. Jamaal Bowman to represent the district. What remained unclear, was whether the community would rally behind a single candidate to defeat Bowman, or split the vote to enable Bowman to coast to victory.
For the past two months, members of the Jewish community divided their support between Vedat Gashi and Catherine Parker. Gashi, who entered the race early, received a significant amount of support from everyone. When the district lines were redrawn in May, Parker entered the race and gathered support from local constituents and people who wanted to see a woman take the congressional seat, much as Nita Lowey had for decades.
Critical to the Orthodox community’s decision was the significant endorsements Gashi has – and continues – to accumulate, including from Mike Spano, the mayor of Yonkers, the largest city in the district and home to a significant base of Bowman support. Spano and Tom Meier, Chair of the Yonkers Democratic Committee will be hosting an event for Gashi on August 16.
Other endorsements this week came from former Rep. Nita Lowey on August 3rd as well as former Rep. Eliot Engel, whom Bowman defeated two years ago. Members of the Orthodox community in White Plains decided to back Gashi on August 2nd, and from New Rochelle on August 4th. The Orthodox community from Scarsdale has been behind Gashi from the start, supporting his moderate, common sense approach to legislation and support for Israel.
Other reasons for picking Gashi include his solid organizational infrastructure set up for the final weeks of the race, with several more months and significantly more money to campaign than Parker, who entered only recently.
It’s never easy to defeat an incumbent, even one with a horrible track record like Bowman. Yet there is a path.
It remains to be seen if the broader Jewish community will get behind Gashi the way the Orthodox community joined in common cause this week. If they do, it might encourage Parker to drop from the race, thereby winning support from the community for her to pursue another political run in the future, and pave a clearer path to defeat a member of the far-left “Squad” on August 23rd.
New York State redrew its district lines for congress late in May because of the 2020 census, causing a delay in the congressional primaries in the state. Many people are unaware of the ramifications of this action.
Surprise! You’re in NY-16, not NY-17
The first surprise is that people in lower Westchester are now in NY congressional district number 16, not 17. The new district lines run roughly from the border of New York City up to a few miles north of Interstate-287, and includes the Wakefield section of the Bronx.
New York’s 16th Congressional District has been redrawn as of May 20, 2022. It covers a small section of the Bronx and then all of lower Westchester County. Many residents used to be part of NY-17 and are unaware that their congressional district and representative has changed.
This district is roughly 42% White, 27% Hispanic and 21% Black, with a small percentage of Asians and others. The Black community is principally in the southern part of the district, closer to New York City.
Surprise! Rep. Jamaal Bowman is your congressman
Rep. Jamaal Bowman is the incumbent in NY-16 but much of the district is new for him. While he continues to have a base of support from his 2020 run, located in the Bronx, Yonkers and Mount Vernon, the northern portion of the new NY-16 was previously in NY-17 and represented by Rep. Mondaire Jones.
Because Bowman does not have a built-in base in the district which would normally benefit an incumbent, a couple of local politicians have entered the race to unseat him.
Surprise! Democratic primaries are on August 23rd with early voting beginning August 13
While many people in New York think they already voted in primaries several weeks ago, the congressional primary is on a separate date to afford the congressional candidates time to assemble a campaign. The date chosen for the primary is deep in the summer, when many people are on vacations and others are running off to university. Primary day is likely to have a very low voter turn-out, meaning that every vote counts that much more. People can change / register to vote in the primary by using this form by July 29.
Fight One – Bowman versus Others
Bowman’s policies are deeply unpopular in much of the district. His calls to ‘Defund the Police’, ‘Abolish I.C.E.’, Open Borders and teaching Critical Race Theory in schools are all echoes of his fellow far-left Squad comrades. Further, voting against the Infrastructure Bill – and then subsequently lying to his constituents that he voted for it – left a bad taste for many. His bad track record providing constituent services adds to his weak candidacy.
Catherine Parker is one of the Democrats challenging Bowman. She has been a member of the Westchester Board of Legislators since 2013, and has consistently voiced her disapproval with Bowman’s votes on numerous issues, such as the infrastructure bill, saying Bowman’s “protest vote spoke more of his unwillingness to accept compromise than actually accomplishing anything.”
Parker believes that her nine years of experience in Westchester not only give her a solid base of support and track record of serving her constituents, but are likely critical in ultimately working across the aisle in congress, as Democrats are likely to lose a large number of seats during November elections.
Vedat Gashi is also running in the Democratic primary to unseat Bowman, having jumped in many months ago. He was able to get a number of endorsements and raise a significant amount of funds as people in Westchester were eager to retire Bowman. Unfortunately, both he and his base have fallen outside of the final district lines, making his path to victory more complicated.
Fight Two – Parker versus Gashi
While much of Westchester despises the thought of being represented by a member of the Socialist Squad, the pro-Israel community is fighting amongst themselves regarding supporting the two contenders.
Bowman has a terrible track record on Israel. He co-sponsored legislation calling the founding of Israel a ‘Nakba”, a catastrophe. He voted against supporting the Abraham Accords in which Israel made peace with four new countries. He voted against supplying Israel with weapons amidst a wave of attacks from a foreign designated terrorist group. And he has almost the identical voting record as two of the most alt-left anti-Semitic members of congress, Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN).
In sharp contrast, both Gashi and Parker have made statements which are pro-Israel and against anti-Semitism. Parker said clearly that she would take money from AIPAC, as her views on Israel are in line with the pro-Israel organization.
Gashi supporters point to his endorsements and more money raised than Parker as demonstrating a higher probability of winning. Parker’s supporters note that Gashi’s advantages are principally because he’s been in the race twice as long as Parker but she is catching up. With an established base in the district and more women traditionally voting in primaries, Parker may have the better path to defeating Bowman.
But it is all beside the point. The only likely path to defeating Bowman would require one of the two to drop out, making it a head-to-head race. Supporters of Gashi are lobbying Parker to drop out and Parker supporters are urging the same of Gashi. While everyone seems to like both candidates, they are simultaneously angry at both for effectively paving a pathway for Bowman’s victory.
Neither Gashi nor Parker will likely drop out. They will both ask their supporters for funds in a cause they know is doomed, as each candidate benefits from enhanced name recognition and the ability to bank the extra funds for another race in the future. Bowman will win a district that hates him.
Another result is that the Jewish community will turn on itself, pointing fingers at supporters of the opposing candidate for not getting their candidate to back down. They will scream at AIPAC and DMFI (Democratic Majority For Israel) for not stepping forward to endorse one of the candidates to galvanize support for a shot at the difficult road to victory, since the groups don’t want to offend potential wealthy donors from Westchester to their PACs.
What is NOT likely, but should, happen is a focused game plan for 2024. The community needs to build alliances with moderate Democratic politicians who will be willing to run against Bowman in the next cycle. Community leaders need to assemble a NY16PAC which will rally behind a single candidate next time. The process cannot be fought in the last months of the race, but over the next two years.
Members of the community should also keep Bowman’s email and office numbers – (202) 225-2464 and (914) 371-9220 – handy to constantly inform him of their views on important topics. People in Congress must know that people are watching and are holding them accountable.
There will probably be no surprises in two years, and hopefully only a single fight to defeat the alt-left extremist who is poised to become your voice in congress.
Catherine Parker, a resident of Rye, NY, is running for Congress in New York’s newly redrawn 16th district, one of the most Jewish districts in the country. She has much to say about the district’s current representative, Jamaal Bowman, and it’s and not pretty.
Parker agreed to be interviewed about issues of concern to the Jewish community, as she gets her message out to her constituents.
On Israel and United Nations
Among the three people running for the seat in the Democratic primary, Parker is the only one who put Israel on her website as part of her agenda. Her website specifies:
“Israel is an important ally to the United States, and in Washington, Catherine will be a steadfast ally of the Middle East’s only democracy. Unlike her opponent who has consistently opposed U.S. policy supportive of Israel, Catherine would have voted in support of Israel’s right to defend itself and protect its citizens and she would have voted for funding of the Iron Dome.
“Catherine opposes the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement which aims to end international support for Israel. She believes wholeheartedly in a two state solution. When it comes to a deal with Iran regarding nuclear – a new Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – we need to see that it will be more protective and longer, stronger and broader than what was negotiated by President Obama in 2015. And unlike her opponent, Catherine supports strengthening the Abraham Accords and would have voted in support for the Israel Relations Normalization Act of 2021.“
These very supportive statements about the Jewish State served as a basis for our conversation.
On BDS, Parker said that it’s “just a version of anti-Semitism.” She believes that it should have no standing or support in our government.
She said that aid to Israel should not be conditional, much as President Biden has stated. She offered that Israel’s security has enhanced America’s security, and with “Israel being attacked all the time from terrorist groups like Hamas, it [Israel] deserves our support.”
Parker added that she supported the Taylor Force Act which limited funds to the Palestinian Authority as long as it pays the families of terrorists. “If the PA is going to be paying stipends to terrorists, then as a country, we shouldn’t be providing economic aid [to the PA].”
Parker added that she doesn’t think that the United Nations is fair in regards to Israel. In particular, she pointed to the UN Human Rights Council which continues to target Israel, a theme the State Department discussed a few weeks ago. She had no comment about the unique perpetual agency devoted to the descendants of Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, and said she would look into it.
Parker has never been to Israel but aligns herself with the Jewish State. While she has no position on Israelis living east of the Green Line in “settlements,” she is eager to visit the country and to learn more.
Iran’s Nuclear Program
Parker called the Islamic Republic of Iran “bad actors.” She was disappointed that Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s attempt at diplomacy had seemingly broken down, and said she is “open to listening” to alternatives to deal with the menace, including military action.
Parker supports the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism. She discussed her family’s long connection to former Rep. Nita Lowey and supports having Holocaust education in every school in the country. Parker views this as important to combat anti-Semitism and to benefit all of society.
Why She’s Running: Bowman
Parker went through a lengthy list of reasons why she’s running for Congress and it centers around Rep. Jamaal Bowman.
She said that she believes that Bowman’s advocacy for “Defund the Police is absolutely ridiculous.” The country has “many wonderful people serving us” and the key to combating some rogue officers is to have “implicit bias training” for active police officers.
Parker thinks that Bowman has made terrible policy decisions for the lower Westchester district and for the country, including voting against the infrastructure bill, against aid to Ukraine, and against supporting Israel.
She contrasted her style with Bowman who has a terrible working relationship with fellow Democrats in Westchester (writer’s note: I have repeatedly heard the same criticism). Parker commented about how she strives for bipartisanship in her dealings with Republicans and Democrats in passing laws that benefit the community, and wants to bring that kind of care to Washington, DC. She pondered that Bowman seems to be driven by personal motivation or his ties to the socialist fringe of the party, and clearly not to his constituents.
Catherine Parker is a seasoned local politician who is learning about the larger national and international issues that concern her Westchester constituents, including Jews. Her instincts seem good and she avoided wading into unfamiliar topics until learning more. I would not be surprised to see her win endorsements for her positions on anti-Semitism and Israel from a variety of groups including Democratic Majority For Israel (DMFI) which normally doesn’t fight incumbents, AIPAC, America’s Pro-Israel lobby, as well as other pro-Israel Democrats like Rep. Ritchie Torres (NY-15), just to the south of her district.
By way of comparison, Bowman is supported as part of the extremist “squad” endorsed by the Sunrise Movement and the Working Families Party, which also support Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush, all of whom have cast votes and made comments deeply hurtful to the Jewish community. Consider that the DC Chapter of the Sunrise Movement actually banned progressive Jewish groups from an event, including the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA). Even far left groups like Americans for Peace Now were appalled at the Sunrise Movement’s action, as the president and CEO said “This is boycotting groups because they are Jewish and state a general … support of Israel,” even though it’s not a core component of their mission, making the action blatantly anti-Semitic.
The differences between Bowman and Parker are dramatic.
The Democratic primary will be held on August 23rd with early voting beginning on August 13.