Jamaal Bowman: Candidate For NY Congressional District 16

Michael Woyton

YONKERS, NY — There are several contested races in this month's primary, including for Congressional District 16. Patch asked candidates in the contested races to answer questions about their campaigns and will be publishing candidate profiles as the primary day draws near.

Jamaal Bowman, 44, of Yonkers, is running to be the Democratic candidate of Congressional District 16. His opponent are Rep. Eliot Engel, Chris Fink and Sammy Ravelo. Andom Ghebreghiorgis pulled out of the race after the ballots were printed.

He has a doctorate in educational leadership from Manhattanville College, a masters degree in counseling from Mercy College and a bachelors in sports management from the University of New Haven.

Bowman has worked for 20 years as a public school teacher and principal. He is the founder and former principal of the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action, a Bronx public middle school.

Bowman is married with three children.

The 16th Congressional District includes the northern Bronx and Yonkers, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Mamaroneck, Larchmont, Scarsdale, Eastchester, Bronxville, Tuckahoe, Pelham, Pelham Manor, Rye, Rye City and parts of Ardsley, Hastings-on-Hudson and Edgemont.

Why are you seeking elective office?

During my 20 year career as a public school teacher and principal, I have served the most amazing children and families of New York City. But like all educators, I also saw families struggle every day with poverty, illness, and the loss of a loved one due to incarceration. And I saw that even though I could work hard to make my classroom a world-class learning environment, I couldn’t change our underfunded budgets, our overfilled class sizes, and the punitive laws that penalized and criminalized black and brown students.

Unfortunately, there came a point when I realized that there were much larger forces at work that continued to stunt the growth of our communities. I didn’t feel like there was much attention being paid by the national media to our communities here in the Bronx and Westchester. We have children from certain communities who have been historically oppressed and traumatized by a political and economic system that doesn’t provide for them.

I’m proud of our work at CASA, but there’s only so much we can do within a single school. After two decades in public education, I’m tired of watching our families struggle to live a good life because they can’t get jobs, health care, housing, and dignity and safety they need. I’m tired of seeing hedge funds try to buy out our public school system through privatization. I’ve had enough of a generation of politicians who underfunded our schools and cut our social safety net while building more jails, bailing out Wall Street, accepting corporate PAC donations, and spending trillions of dollars on never-ending wars.

The single most pressing issue facing our community, and what I intend to do about it.

Inequality. The pandemic and the recent national uprising over racial injustice have exposed how inequality is destroying our nation. Black people are disproportionately dying from disease, policing, environmental issues, gun violence, and so many other crises because of centuries of racism and decades of policy failure to address it.

It’s time for us to root out the racism that’s been part of this country since the very beginning. We must confront the question of whether America can become a democracy that guarantees freedom and justice for all, or whether the price paid for the original sin of white supremacy must be unceasing misery, poverty, and death.

I support a three-pronged Reconstruction Agenda to addressing inequality in our country by calling on America to: Reconcile With Our History, Get Off Our Necks, and Let Us Breathe.

Reconcile With Our History: we must establish a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission to document and assess the federal government’s role in America’s history of racism similar to the transitional justice approach in Germany, South Africa, and Rwanda.

Get Off Our Necks: we must shift funding and resources from police departments, jails, and prisons to new agencies designed to protect public health:

Let Us Breathe: we must embark on historic levels of economic investment into lifting up all of America’s communities through a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and much more.

Those who control our economy benefit from and exploit racism to keep working people divided against each other. If we’re too busy divided and afraid of each other, we can’t come together to create strong programs that take care of us and provide for our families. This is how racism is killing all of us in some way. We must build a national movement to come together, across lines of race, religion, or gender.

What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?

Our campaign has the necessary momentum to defeat Eliot Engel. We’ve raised over $1 million for our grassroots campaign, and this past quarter we outraised Engel without accepting any corporate PAC or lobbyist money.

Over the course of the campaign, have earned endorsements from: Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), Katie Porter, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, MoveOn, Justice Democrats, the Working Families Party, Democracy for America, the Sunrise Movement, New York State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, New York State Senator Robert Jackson, New York State Senator Jessica Ramos, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, New York City Council Member Brad Lander, Mark Green, Zephyr Teachout, Diane Ravitch, Cynthia Nixon, Tiffany Cabán, DJ Stretch Armstrong, Daily Kos, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Collective PAC, New York Communities for Change, Make the Road Action, Community Voices Heard Power, Brand New Congress, New York Progressive Action Network, Somia El-Rowmein, Dr. Rosa Rivera-McCutchen, Jennifer Scarlott, Terry Gipson, Center for Popular Democracy Action, Blue America PAC, Badass Teachers Association, Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, RootsAction, NYC Kids Pac, 350 Action PAC, The Jewish Vote, the Yemeni American Association, Women for Justice, Indivisible Nation Brooklyn (INBK), Council of School Administrators (CSA), and UAW, Region 9A.

I am the only candidate fighting for the bold, progressive solutions that actually match the scale of the crises we’re facing including Medicare for all, a Green New Deal, a jobs guarantee, a New Deal for Education and a restorative justice system that works to uplift our community.

If you are a challenger, in what way has the current board or officeholder failed the community (or district or constituency)?

Eliot Engel has been an absent congressman for 31 years. He’s out of touch with the district and spends most of his time out of the district at his second home in Maryland. For years, Engel has failed to address the tale of two districts we see in NY-16: one of great wealth and one of extreme poverty. In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and critical Black Lives Matter protests, Eliot Engel chose to hide out at his Maryland home while our community was fighting for their lives. He lied about being present in the district at charity style events handing out masks and other resources to the community.

Representative Engel is a leader who represents the past. Engel voted for the 1994 crime bill which has decimated communities of color and ripped families and communities like mine apart. While other members of Congress endorsed challengers taking on the rogue IDC, the caucus of Democrats who joined Republicans in the New York State Senate, Engel said nothing about Jeff Klein working with Republicans right in our backyard to block progressive legislation.

Describe the other issues that define your campaign platform.

Medicare for All — Recently, my mom has had kidney issues. Luckily she is a retired union worker (USPS) with access to Medicare and other benefits. That said, my sisters and I still spent hours navigating a mountain of complicated paperwork to get the care my mother needs and deserves. I can only imagine what it is like navigating this system on your own. The system is broken, and people are dying early out of fear of going bankrupt. People should be able to go to the doctor when they are sick or injured without giving a second thought to premiums, deductibles and copays, or whether or not they’ll be able to afford the necessary treatment or medication. The stress of economic inequality in America has led us to a serious health crisis, manifested as an addiction epidemic and unrest in our communities. Reproductive rights are being threatened in states across the country and we’re seeing devastating maternal mortality rates, especially for Black women. It pays to invest in the health of our people. Medicare for All would improve overall health, increase average life expectancy, and help address economic inequalities. The current healthcare system tells people that if you don’t have enough money, you simply should suffer and die. We must make sure every American has health care as a human right. Other nations have done it. The only reason we have not is because of corporate greed, division, and the lack of political will.

Homes Guarantee: In the wealthiest nation in the world, everyone should be able to have a secure home. I applaud all the organizing that has gone into advancing rent control and tenant protections in New York and seek to strengthen these measures on the federal level. I will also fight for equitable zoning and to make the purchase of new homes more accessible to lower-income families who have been kept out of the housing market through decades of redlining and disenfranchisement. The issue of housing is also deeply connected to issues of climate, structural racism, and skyrocketing inequality. That’s why I also will fight for the $180 billion Green New Deal for public housing plan introduced by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Sanders and other measures to protect tenants, upgrade existing housing, and create good-paying jobs in the communities that need them the most.

Green New Deal: The climate crisis is the greatest existential threat to humanity. All policy needs to be planned through the lens of the Green New Deal, the only plan we have to offer our children a future on this planet. The Green New Deal not only addresses the climate crisis, but would also provide millions of good paying union jobs for Americans, while making sure those communities that were sidelined through racist New Deal era policies, such as redlining, are properly supported. That being said, to shift the GND from policy on paper to practice, I see education to be the necessary vehicle to prepare our children to lead sustainable lifestyles and to be trained for the jobs of the Green Economy. The GND would also lead to restructuring the economy around green jobs, as coal and other fossil fuel industries are fazed out.

This is still not enough on its own. I have spent my career building coalitions, and I plan to bring those skills to Washington with me. As stated above, the climate crisis is the greatest existential threat to humanity. The US cannot combat climate change alone. To ensure a truly just transition to a renewable economy, the Green New Deal must be a Global Green New Deal. We cannot leave people behind as we rebuild our economy.

What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?

I founded a public middle school in the Bronx not because I thought it’d be easy, but because I knew my community deserved better than what the status quo had to offer. At Cornerstone Academy for Social Action (CASA), I served as principal for 10 years until the end of 2019. I built this school based on the principles of equity and restorative justice. My goal has been to create an environment that supports the whole child, fostering their emotional wellbeing and unique interests, all while teaching standard subject matter and working to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.

Beyond my work at CASA, I worked with the Alliance for Quality Education to organize parents to fight for equitable funding. I worked with NYS Allies for Public Education to organize parents to fight against standardized tests through the civil disobedient act of opting out. I worked with the coalition for education justice to push for culturally responsive, anti-racist curriculum and training for New York City teachers. We took the lead on trauma informed practices with Bronx Legal Services and Visiting Nurse Services. I worked with Teachers Unite, the Dignity in Schools campaign, and New Settlement Houses on fighting the school to prison pipeline by implementing restorative justice practices. I worked with Avenues the World school, Negus World, and Hip Hop Saves Lives to implement innovative design thinking and social justice curriculum.

I know this work could dramatically change historically oppressed communities nationwide if it were given the platform to do so.

The best advice ever shared with me was …

I am deeply inspired by this quote from Coretta Scott King:

“I must remind you that starving a child is violence. Neglecting school children is violence. Punishing a mother and her family is violence. Discrimination against a working man is violence. Ghetto housing is violence. Ignoring medical need is violence. Contempt for poverty is violence.”

We have to continue organizing our communities to realize that their problems are not simply personal problems, but problems of a broader system that systematically neglects all of our human needs.

I believe we need to transform how people think about government — government is the tool of the people to solve our common problems. The only way we can do that is through organizing a movement across our beautiful differences and challenge those who stand in our way. Through my work as building a public school from scratch and being involved in the education justice movement, I have a lot of experience building coalitions, developing leadership and teams, centering the most marginalized communities, and creating goals that we can all work toward.

We must use the levers of power on the inside with a bully pulpit while empowering organized communities on the outside. I want us to work together and remain attune to the perspectives of the most marginalized. I will work to uplift all, and as I have done in education, will always make sure that Black and brown families are on equal footing.

What else would you like voters to know about yourself and your positions?

My core vision and values are based on our collective humanity, rather than some sort of zero-sum game. Our district is probably one of the most diverse districts in the entire country, but also one with extreme inequality related to race and class. We have a chance to unite people across differences around a shared purpose and our shared adversaries who are holding all of us back: oligarchs and white supremacists. We have so many problems to solve in our community, but we can’t let the wealthy and well-connected on Wall Street and in Washington divide us up just so they can hoard more money and power for themselves. If they divide us, we can’t unite to take on this corrupt economic and political system.

It is clear that we need a leader in Congress that pushes for bold solutions that meet the scale of the problems we face. Our campaign isn’t accepting any corporate PAC or lobbyist money because we believe accountability lies solely in the hands of voters. Inside the halls of Congress, we will use our office as a bully pulpit to the demands of social movements and community organizations. We’ll use the office to empower marginalized communities and fight for equity for all people. I will fight for Medicare for all, a Green New Deal, a jobs guarantee, a New Deal for Education and a restorative justice system that uplifts our entire community. I won't wait to lead. I will work with the community to make sure we achieve our goals and serve our district.

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This article originally appeared on the Bronxville-Eastchester Patch