News & Politics

Bowman and Latimer argue over Israel and racial segregation in final debate

The candidates also discussed immigration policy, reparations and a potential mask ban in the subway.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer and Rep. Jamaal Bowman participate in the WPIX11 debate on June 18, 2024.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer and Rep. Jamaal Bowman participate in the WPIX11 debate on June 18, 2024. WPIX11

Rep. Jamaal Bowman and Westchester County Executive George Latimer largely stuck to their main lines of attack during their third and final televised debate on Wednesday night. But the debate, broadcast on WPIX11, also gave the two candidates running in the Democratic primary for the 16th Congressional District an opportunity to provide their broader views on the Democratic Party’s policies. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t have much in common. 

The Israel-Hamas War and Latimer’s approach to race – talking points that simply refuse to go away in this race – dominated the early part of the debate. 

Latimer, who holds a commanding lead in recent polls, was asked to explain comments he made earlier this month at a Westchester League of Women Voters candidate forum, when he said to Bowman that “your constituency is Dearborn, Michigan, your constituency is San Francisco, California.” Bowman supporters characterized Latimer’s comments as an anti-Muslim dog whistle, since Dearborn is the city with the highest Muslim population per capita in the U.S.

But Latimer said that he was alluding to a joint fundraising committee that Bowman has with Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who currently represents Dearborn. 

“The reason why I used Dearborn, Michigan is not because of the Islamic presence there, it's because Representative Tlaib and he created a joint fundraising committee on Feb. 14, Valentine's Day, in which money that she raised now could go into his campaign,” he said. “That's why I mentioned Dearborn, Michigan, nothing to do with Islamophobia.”

When the discussion turned to the issue of race within the 16th Congressional District, which spans from the northern Bronx through much of Westchester County, Bowman went on the attack. He accused Latimer of trying to keep Westchester County segregated and provided a litany of statistics that he argued illustrated how life for people of color in the county had deteriorated under Latimer's leadership. 

“I govern the entire district, but I do pay extra attention to the parts of the district that he's been trying to keep segregated for decades and that he has neglected throughout his entire career,” Bowman said. “We need more investments in Mount Vernon, Yonkers, New Rochelle (and) in the Bronx, and I'm going to bring those investments back.”

In response, Latimer accused Bowman of not being familiar with the district and pointed to the large numbers of local Black elected officials who have endorsed him.

The two candidates also sparred over the issue of reparations for descendants of enslaved Black people and people of African descent. Bowman is the House sponsor of a bill that would create a $14 trillion federal reparations program. Latimer said that the cost of Bowman’s proposal was unrealistic and argued instead for creation of a commission to investigate the issue, similar to what New York and California have already set up.

As far as the Middle East was concerned, each candidate attempted to skirt questions about the conflict. Bowman sought to downplay the distance between himself and President Joe Biden and pointedly refused to say that he believed the White House was condoning genocide. Instead, he reserved most of his criticism for Israeli leaders, particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Congress.

“I would like for President Biden to do more to make sure we are not sending weapons to Israel at this time, and especially (to) Benjamin Netanyahu, who has evoked language that is genocidal, just like President Herzog has evoked language that is genocidal, and that's why international charges are being brought against Benjamin Netanyahu,” he said.

Latimer, meanwhile, declined to criticize Israel at all. “I think it's foolish for us as American public officials to comment about what Israelis should do,” he said.

Bowman charged that Latimer was reluctant to criticize Israel or Netanyahu due to the hefty support that he has received from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – whose super PAC, United Democracy Project, has so far spent more than $14 million on ads criticizing Bowman and boosting Latimer. In turn, Latimer accused the Democratic Socialists of America, whose New York City chapter has endorsed Bowman, of wanting to eliminate the state of Israel. “You cannot come to this kind of situation putting gas on a raging fire,” he said.

The candidates were also asked for their positions on a series of other hot-button issues, including immigration and the state’s potential mask ban.

Bowman said that Biden’s current approach to immigration – refusing asylum to almost anyone who crosses the border illegally – was too conservative, though he tried to avoid directly criticizing the president. “What we have to begin to do is deal with the root causes of mass migration,” he said.

Latimer, who like many upstate county executives has managed a localized version of the migrant surge to New York, said he believed that Biden’s approach of restricting asylum was correct, although he added that the federal government should get more involved in spreading the burden of housing and caring for migrants. 

The candidates were also asked about the possibility of a mask ban in New York City subways, an idea floated by Gov. Kathy Hochul last week in the wake of criminal activity and protests. Bowman said that he would not support the measure. Latimer said that although he would not enact a mask ban himself, it was ultimately up to Hochul and he would comply if she made it.

Throughout the debate, the candidates found little common ground. Even a question about President Donald Trump’s pending sentencing turned into an opportunity for each candidate to attack the other’s supporters.

“He claims to be a Democrat,” Bowman said of Latimer, “but he is funded by racist MAGA Republicans who support taking your voting rights, taking your abortion rights, gutting affirmative action and who are insurrectionists.”

As Bowman highlighted Latimer’s links to Trump supporters, Latimer previewed a new line of attack – highlighting Bowman connections to socialists. He knocked Bowman for being endorsed by DSA, which he claimed does not believe in Israel’s right to exist and wants to legalize fentanyl.

Early voting has already begun in the race, which has now become the most expensive House Democratic primary in history, thanks largely to AIPAC spending against Bowman. Primary election day is June 25, and Democrats across the country are closely following this race and the two candidates vying to represent the district.