‘Stand Up To The Oligarchs’: Bernie Sanders Makes Passionate Plea To Reelect Rep. Jamaal Bowman

HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. ― Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called upon Democrats in the New York City suburbs to reelect Rep. Jamaal Bowman in order to take a stand against the deep-pocketed super PACs bankrolling Bowman’s primary challenger.

Bowman’s bid for a third term “is one of the most significant elections in the modern history of this country,” Sanders told a crowd of about 200 supporters gathered in a park on the bank of the Hudson River, “because this election is not about a clash of ideas, this election is about whether billionaire super PACs can buy our democracy.”

Sanders argued, with a touch of humor, for Democrats to vote for Bowman for the sake of democracy ― even if they don’t see eye to eye with him on other matters.

“I want to say a word to the people in the district ― and Jamaal may not agree with me, but this is what I think ― even if you disagree, you’re a Democrat, you’re going to vote in this primary, and you disagree with Jamaal on this issue, or that issue ― vote for Jamaal,” he said. “And the reason is, the most important part of this election is whether we have the courage as people to stand up to the oligarchs and tell these billionaires they’re not going to control our government.”

Westchester County Executive George Latimer, a more moderate Democrat, is seeking to defeat Bowman in Tuesday’s primary in New York’s 16th Congressional District, a solid Democratic seat where the general election is not competitive. 

With the support of well-resourced pro-Israel groups who have endorsed him, as well as a cryptocurrency industry super PAC, Latimer now has a double-digit lead over Bowman, according to the only public poll in the race. Super PACs backing Latimer have outspent Bowman’s allied super PACs by a roughly 9-to-1 margin, with a group tied to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) alone spending more than $14.6 million to blast Bowman.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), left, waves to supporters Friday as Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) speaks during a reelection rally in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), left, waves to supporters Friday as Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) speaks during a reelection rally in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. Joy Malone via Getty Images

AIPAC and a smaller group, Democratic Majority for Israel, have it out for Bowman because of his vehement criticism of Israel, which they see as insensitive to Jewish security needs. Bowman, who nows describes Israel’s attacks on Gaza a “genocide,” called for a cease-fire in the war less than two weeks after the retaliatory strikes began in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel.

For Bowman and his supporters, the lopsided spending war has turned AIPAC, which indeed counts some billionaire Republicans among its top donors, into as much of a villain in the race as Latimer himself.

Speaking before Sanders, Bowman gave the crowd time to boo when he said “special interest group AIPAC,” and then repeated it again to elicit louder jeers.

“They are spending more money in this race than has ever been spent in congressional primary history,” he said. “They have money; we have the many. They have power, we’ve got the people. They have an oligarchy, but we’ve got us!”

He then led the crowd in a chant of “We got us.”

Rally attendees, many of whom were from the small, progressive river town where it took place, received paper bracelets with one of three words: “hope,” “change” or “peace.” Those bracelets corresponded to labeled buses that transported them to fan out and knock on doors for Bowman’s campaign after the event.

On Saturday, Sanders will also co-headline a rally for Bowman alongside Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) at a park in the South Bronx in an area that will be part of Ocasio-Cortez’s district after the next elections.

Sanders does not use the term “genocide” to describe Israel’s war in Gaza, but he voiced his agreement with Bowman’s calls for a cease-fire and objection to the massive suffering Israel is inflicting on Gaza’s civilian population as a result of its war with Hamas. He cited estimates that Israel has killed 38,000 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians, as well as the destruction of the majority of buildings and the prevention of adequate humanitarian aid entering the region.

“Israel, like any other country, had a right to defend itself,” Sanders said. “But what it does not have the right to do is go to war against the entire Palestinian people.”

He's given a voice to the Palestinian people, and it seems like not many people in Congress are.Zach Arno, a data scientist

The Bowman campaign’s choice of Hastings-on-Hudson for the first rally with Sanders was a deliberate play to turn out the progressive, middle-class part of his base.

New York’s 16th District consists of a sliver of the northeastern Bronx and the lower half of suburban Westchester County. Bowman is expected to perform the strongest in the Bronx, as well as in the inner-ring suburbs with large Black and Latino populations, such as Yonkers and Mount Vernon.

But among the more affluent and whiter parts of the district, the towns along the Hudson River have historically been redoubts of progressive activism and voting. Bowman carried the village of Hastings-on-Hudson in 2020, when he ousted then-Rep. Eliot Engel, and again in 2022.

Hastings has not been immune, however, to the internecine rancor plaguing other parts of the district based on disagreements over Israeli-Palestinian policy.

In November, pro-Israel residents of the village mounted an eleventh-hour revolt against progressive Mayor Niki Armacost, a Bowman supporter whom he thanked onstage Friday.

Armacost, an international development professional raised by aid workers, had stoked their ire because she waited 10 days to issue a statement about the Oct. 7 massacre of more than 1,100 Israelis and the taking of about 240 hostages.

When the statement arrived, some of the hamlet’s 8,000-plus residents felt as though her evenhandedness ― rather than a black-and-white statement against anti-Jewish hatred ― resembled the conservative “all lives matter” response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The news of the devastating terrorist attack on innocent Israelis by Hamas horrified all of us, and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza breaks our hearts,” Armacost wrote.

These Jewish constituents led a last-minute write-in campaign against Armacost. Village trustee Thomas Drake, a write-in candidate, got more than 700 votes to Armacost’s 1,372.

Armacost, who is now the only mayor in the district supporting Bowman, is quick to point out that under most circumstances a two-thirds majority is a sweeping victory.

“It was clear to me someone had to be blamed,” she told HuffPost earlier this month. “It was my job to absorb that blame in that moment, and that is what I did.”

She doubts her result is an ominous portent for Bowman, predicting Hastings would go for Bowman a third consecutive time.

“He’s delivered big time for my municipality and other municipalities across the district,” Armacost said, citing, among other things, a grant he helped secure to power the local library with geothermal energy.

But the opposition to Bowman’s candidacy in Hastings ― among at least a vocal minority of residents ― is such that some Bowman critics circulated a lengthy letter questioning the cost-sharing and permitting rights for Bowman’s rally and whether the village was prepared to handle potential “paid agitators” aligned with Bowman’s campaign.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman welcomes Hastings-on-Hudson Mayor Niki Armacost onstage. Armacost, the only mayor in the district backing Bowman, faced an Israel-related challenge in November.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman welcomes Hastings-on-Hudson Mayor Niki Armacost onstage. Armacost, the only mayor in the district backing Bowman, faced an Israel-related challenge in November. Joy Malone/Getty Images

The rally itself attracted a handful of pro-Israel residents, some of whom were there to observe quietly and one of whom, Judah Shapiro, held up placards listing Bowman’s controversial comments about Israel and other topics. “Bowman called proof of sexual assault and brutality by Hamas ‘lies’ and ‘propaganda,’” one of Shapiro’s signs read, referring to Bowman’s comments at a pro-Palestinian rally in November in which he cast doubt on reports of sexual assault committed by Hamas. (He has since said he accepts the evidence as documented by the United Nations.)

“There’s no difference if you’re extreme left or you’re extreme right and you don’t care about facts,” said Shapiro, an attorney who plans to vote for Latimer.

Other Jewish rally-goers told HuffPost they were specifically there because of Bowman’s support for the Palestinian cause.

“He’s given a voice to the Palestinian people, and it seems like not many people in Congress are,” said Zach Arno, a data scientist.

In still another instance, the Israel-related divide over Bowman ran through a father-daughter duo.

“I like how progressive he is,” said Rachel Shornick, a recent college graduate from Dobbs Ferry. “He kind of pushes for the more progressive things, and to me, Latimer’s more content with how things are right now ― and the status quo.”

Shornick’s father, Mitch, an attorney, was happy to hear Sanders and Bowman speak as he attended the rally alongside his daughter. But he is firmly in Latimer’s corner.

Mitch Shornick sent HuffPost a follow-up email to make his feelings about Bowman clearer.

“As Bernie said, you don’t need to agree with Jamaal on every issue,” Shornick wrote. “But my feeling is this: He failed my ‘Jewish Lives Matter’ test. The world was silent when everyone should have been calling for the Red Cross to have access to the hostages to confirm they were alive and being treated well.”