In Final Stretch, Progressives Coalesce Around a Single Challenger to Rep. Eliot Engel

Andom Ghebreghiorgis is ending his campaign to unset Rep. Eliot Engel and throwing his support behind fellow progressive Jamaal Bowman.

Andom Ghebreghiorgis speaks with volunteers at an event in the Bronx on March 7, 2020 in New York. Photo: Christian Amato

Andom Ghebreghiorgis is dropping out of the race to unseat New York Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel and endorsing his former opponent Jamaal Bowman, signaling that progressives in the race are coalescing around the Justice Democrats-backed former Bronx middle school principal.

“With the election almost upon us, the reason why I entered the race hasn’t changed,” Ghebreghiorgis said in a statement Monday. “I’m proud to stand with the Working Families Party in making the final push to send Jamaal to Congress.”

Attention to the race has picked up in recent months as the coronavirus ravaged New York City, and specifically the 16th Congressional District, which covers parts of the Bronx and Westchester and was one of the areas hardest hit by the pandemic. Engel has faced scrutiny over being absent from the district during the pandemic — and lying about it to The Atlantic. 

Engel, who has been in office since 1989, is facing his first serious primary challenge since 2000. His progressive opponents have highlighted his record on foreign policy, from initial opposition to the Iran deal to support for the Iraq War and Israeli settlements. They have also focused on his campaign contributions from the defense industry, from which he has received more than $200,000 over the course of his career.

Ghebreghiorgis announced his campaign last June and has been focused on tying Engel’s record on foreign policy to worsening socioeconomic issues in the district and turning out nontraditional voters. He waged a competitive campaign with a skeleton staff and grassroots support from a broad coalition of working people in the district. Still, high-profile progressive groups, like Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement, had endorsed Bowman, helping to elevate his campaign and giving him a fundraising advantage.

Because of that, Ghebreghiorgis faced pressure to suspend his campaign for the greater good of the left — unseating Engel. “We ran a series of polls this week across the district and were surprised to see that most registered Dems are still undecided about who to vote for 3 weeks out from Election Day,” Ghebreghiorgis said in a statement. “My mission has always been to bring new representation to the district who understands the needs of the people. As my campaign is not in the position to make that a reality at this time, I am hopeful Jamaal can lead us to the finish line.”

His withdrawal from the race and endorsement of Bowman was facilitated by the New York Working Families Party, according to sources close to the decision. The WFP hailed the decision in a statement on Monday. “We’re proud to stand together with Jamaal and Andom, who are fighting for the change we need in the Bronx and Westchester: Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and equitable funding for education,” said WFP state director Sochie Nnaemeka. “With just three weeks until election day, it’s more important than ever that our movement come together to deliver the change working people deserve.”

The former special education teacher said he would continue fighting for the district and said his campaign had mobilized voters who had lost faith in their representative. “I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish,” he said. “Our neighbors we stood with and supported as we continue to survive this pandemic; the consciousness we raised and sparked; the contribution we made to our continued struggle for a just America and world.”

Heading into the June 23 Democratic primary, Engel has a serious fundraising advantage, but Bowman has the benefit of grassroots support within the district, from which Engel has long been absent. Bowman, who resigned from his job as a public middle school principal last December to focus on his campaign, is running on a platform built around “anti-poverty and anti-racist policies,” he told The Intercept last year. That includes new deals for housing and education and support for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and criminal justice reforms.

Correction: June 1, 2020, 11:07 a.m. ET
A previous version of this article misspelled the name Ghebreghiorgis. The article has also been updated to include a comment from the Working Families Party.

Join The Conversation