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Politics: Black Voters At Odds With Jamaal Bowman Could Help

POLITICS: Black voters at odds with Jamaal Bowman could help sink him

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A fight for black priorities is playing out right here in New York — with national implications.

As socialist “Squad” Rep. Jamaal Bowman tries to fend off a Democratic challenger in the June 25 primary, it’s become clear he is increasingly out of step with his black constituents in The Bronx and Westchester.

I know because I’ve asked them.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., at a campaign stop in White Plains, New York on June 11, 2024. AP

My group, the National Black Empowerment Action Fund, recently commissioned a poll of hundreds of black residents in Bowman’s district.

We found a huge divide between those voters’ concerns and Bowman’s priorities in Congress. 

When asked about the issues they care about most, black voters primarily pointed to quality of life — jobs and economic development (27%), crime and public safety (25%), inflation and the cost of living (18%) and housing (16%).  

Meanwhile, in his public statements Bowman appears squarely focused on the conflict in Gaza, even though only 3% of black people in the district cite that as a leading concern. 

As a 20-year veteran of black politics in America, I’ve seen time and time again a general misunderstanding of what black voters want: quality public education for our kids, secure neighborhoods free of guns and gangs, investment in our communities and access to the American dream. 

Reps. Jamaal Bowman and Rashida Tlaib at a news conference supporting free speech on college campuses, May 23, 2024. CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Taken together, in today’s polarized, politicized environment, the average black voter’s stance might be defined as “moderate” — putting safe streets, good schools and good jobs first.

Socialism and extremism don’t make the cut. Black people aren’t socialists. Full stop.

And that’s exactly why, if Bowman’s challenge is any bellwether, he and his allies in the so-called Squad may be falling out of favor, fast, in black communities.

What’s more, our poll confirmed that the more that black voters learned about their congressman’s extreme record on their most important issues, the further out of favor he fell. 

It revealed two important facts: One, Bowman is not focused on the common-sense problems his black constituents care about — and, two, his extreme record in Congress has not been presented adequately to the black community.

We are having this exact conversation across The Bronx and Westchester and in majority-black districts across the country.

Our poll found that jobs, affordability and the economy were the top issues for black families in the district, parts of which are well-off while some have been sorely underserved. 

Given that, Bowman’s constituents were shocked to learn he voted against an economic development bill prioritized by black congressional leaders and President Biden that steered jobs, investments and federal dollars to our communities. 

Rep. Jamaal Bowman and challenger George Latimer debating at podiums with flags in the background. News 12 Westchester

Public safety was among the most important issues, and portions of the district have a persistent crime problem.

Yet Bowman doesn’t just want to defund the police. He’s a member of the radical Democratic Socialists of America, which advocates for eliminating policing altogether. 

Nearly all those we spoke to want a representative focused on safe neighborhoods. Residents agreed that public safety is the bedrock of a thriving black community — and were troubled about Bowman’s lack of commitment to solving the problem. 

Bowman’s district has no shortage of struggling district schools, and its charter schools have long waitlists.

Black constituents want the ability to choose the best public-school option for their kids, so you’d think their congressman — himself a former educator — would support parent choice in education. 

But no: He’s railed against charter schools and alternative public-school options for his entire political career, placing him distinctly at odds with local parents. 

Taken together, dissatisfaction with his representation on these issues point to real trouble not just for Bowman, but the Squad as a whole, who share his radical, out-of-the-mainstream positions. 

And, despite what Squad members like Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) constantly assert, their challenge comes not from white voters, shadowy conservatives or nefarious actors, but from right here in the heart of the black community.

Recently, I attended a forum with Rep. Bowman in White Plains hosted by local NAACP chapters.

The audience was respectful, but the community response to what they heard seemed tepid.

For every question, the congressman didn’t talk about his record or propose fixes, but reflexively pointed to racism as the culprit for every problem.

I know full well that this country has a long way to go on racial issues. It’s why I’ve founded multiple organizations dedicated to black empowerment. 

But I also know this: If you are sent to Congress to represent us, you must focus on and clearly work to solve the problems we care about. 

Black voters are getting tired of the rhetoric.

It’s time our representatives put our priorities first, not an extremist agenda that fails to solve any problems.

If they don’t, the consequences may be theirs to bear.

Darius Jones is the co-founder of the National Black Empowerment Action Fund.

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