Does George Latimer want to unseat Jamaal Bowman? Could he?

The Westchester County executive said he’s been fielding calls about a primary against the progressive member of “the Squad.” Experts weigh in on what that race would look like.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman, left, and Westchester County Executive George Latimer, right

Rep. Jamaal Bowman, left, and Westchester County Executive George Latimer, right Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images; Don Pollard/Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul

Democrats aren’t just targeting Republicans in Congress next year – Westchester County Executive George Latimer has reportedly been approached about primarying Rep. Jamaal Bowman in the 16th Congressional District. The move to unseat the popular incumbent in the safely blue district raised immediate eyebrows among political observers. But if he chose to run, Latimer could give Bowman a serious challenge – especially as Bowman faces headwinds on the issue of Israel.

Latimer told News12 that he is “thinking about the advice I have been given and will have more to come.” He didn’t immediately respond to a request for further comment from City & State, so the prospect of whether he would actually run remains murky. Latimer just won reelection to his second term as Westchester County executive in 2021, but will be term-limited out of office in 2025.

Latimer has a long track record of successful campaigns – prior to his countywide position, he served in both the state Senate and Assembly for over two decades. Before that, he was elected to the Westchester County Board of Legislators after a short amount of time as a member of the Rye City Council. “George Latimer is a tenacious campaigner with strong retail appeal, and Rep. Bowman is generally to the left of his voters,” Republican consultant William O’Reilly said. “I think County Executive Latimer would have a solid shot at winning that primary."

A prominent member of “the Squad” of progressive Congress members that includes Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bowman has consistently positioned himself as one of the most left-wing members of the House. In his first election in 2018, he had the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America, although he lost their support for his 2022 race after he voted in favor of sending increased military funding to Israel.

Latimer, on the other hand, is comparatively more moderate, even as he touts Westchester as reliably Democratic at a time when Republicans have gained ground in nearby suburbs in the Hudson Valley and Long Island. “If he runs, I think he runs way right of Bowman (obviously) and runs on crime,” Democratic consultant Lupe Todd-Medina said in a text message. “The district is tough because it has (New York City) residents and Westchester (suburban) residents. It’s not like (Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) where she straddles two boroughs.”

Latimer’s plentiful government experience also can’t be ignored. Darren Rigger, partner at the fundraising and public affairs firm Dynamic SRG, asserted voters in recent years have attempted to give a chance to “professional protester” candidates but have now realized that electing candidates with robust political experiences – similar to that of Latimer – will mean better results. “What I heard a lot of people say is Jamal Bowman does performative politics – it's the person who flips over a table in the back of a room or wears a T-shirt and leads a protest. There's no evidence of doing the legislation and passing bills,” Rigger said. “The community is thirsty for someone with an actual record of accomplishment.”

Still, the news that Democratic leaders in Westchester spoke with Latimer about challenging Bowman caught some off guard. “I was surprised when I heard about it,” Todd-Medina said. And the idea that those leaders are trying to recruit an opponent to unseat a generally popular incumbent did not sit well with some Democrats. “GTFO This is dumb,” former state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi said in a tweet, with others on social media echoing her sentiment that Democrats would waste valuable resources on a primary when a national effort is focused on winning back House seats from Republicans.

Other observers decried the news for other reasons beyond the political machinations. Alexis Grenell, a Democratic consultant and founder of Pythia Public Affairs, told City & State she suspects Bowman’s public statements and actions around Israel have prompted the potential challenge. But she argued that his position is not all the different from prominent pro-Israel progressives like Rep. Jerry Nadler, even if Bowman has become more vocal in some regards and sometimes votes differently. “For Latimer to run in this would be to nationalize a primary around a discourse that is deeply counterproductive and a daily headache, frankly, for American Jews,” said Grenell, who is Jewish.

Bowman has not been shy about his opposition to Israel’s right-wing government and human rights violations against Palestinians that the government has overseen, but he has consistently reiterated his belief in Israel’s right to exist and a two state solution. He has broken with the DSA in opposing the boycott, divest and sanction movement, and voted in favor of sending additional funding for the Iron Dome even when a handful of other progressives did not. But he has drawn criticism for removing his support for bipartisan legislation intended to strengthen the Abraham Accords between Israel and Arab nations, as well as for his recent decision not to attend Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s recent address to Congress.

Jake Dilemani, a Democratic consultant with Mercury who has worked with Latimer in the past, told City & State that “senior members of the Jewish community in New York who would very much like to see a George Latimer candidacy.” Recently, Bowman – along with Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive members – voted against a GOP-introduced resolution that proclaimed that Israel is not a racist or apartheid state after comments made by Rep. Pramila Jayapal that the country is racist. “His antics in the last week was, for many people, the straw that broke the camel’s back. He was one of only nine people that didn’t vote for a bill that said a very simple phrase: Israel is not a racist country,” Rigger said.

Bowman’s district has traditionally been home to a large Jewish population and was formerly represented by longtime Rep. Eliot Engel. “Bowman is so radically different than what they had before in that district,” Todd-Medina said. Engel was the longest-serving Jewish member in Congress before Bowman unseated him, a title now held by Rep. Jerry Nadler. But thanks to redistricting, Bowman’s district no longer includes the Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale, which was home to a large number of the district’s Jewish population. And some have pointed out that he has become more vocal in his criticisms of the Israeli government since that change was made.

This wouldn’t be the first time that Israel became a flashpoint in a primary against Bowman. It was central to Vedat Gashi’s failed challenge of the incumbent in 2022. Gashi received the backing of notable pro-Israel leaders, including Engel and former Rep. Nita Lowey. Bowman beat Gashi by nearly 30 points.