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Vedat Gashi gains Engel’s endorsement in bid to oust Bowman

The former longtime Bronx-Westchester representative endorsed his successor’s primary opponent

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Rep. Jamaal Bowman, Vedat Gashi

In New York’s redrawn 16th Congressional District, where freshman Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) is hoping to fend off a moderate primary challenger, the district’s former longtime representative has waded into the race, backing his successor’s opponent.

Former Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), who represented parts of the Bronx and Westchester for more than three decades, is bucking Bowman and endorsing Vedat Gashi, Jewish Insider has learned.

Gashi, an immigrant from the former Yugoslavia who currently serves as a Westchester county legislator and a Democratic district leader, is running a kitchen-table-issues campaign in the solidly blue district, contrasting himself with Bowman, who identifies himself with the “Squad,” a cohort of progressive lawmakers. 

Two other candidates — Catherine Parker and Mark Jaffe — are also running, but trail far behind Bowman and Gashi in fundraising. Parker has raised $298,000 and Jaffe $100,000 to Bowman’s $1.4 million and Gashi’s $807,000.

“Vedat is the type of leader we need in Washington, D.C. – someone who understands the unprecedented times we are facing and who will work with President Biden and fellow Democrats on our shared democratic values,” said Engel. “Someone who will work to achieve real results and real progress, not rhetoric or partisan politics.”

“I’m honored to have [the endorsement],” Gashi told JI, adding, “[Engel has] a tremendous legacy.”

Engel, a top Democratic legislator who chaired the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee and helped lead the first impeachment investigation into former President Donald Trump, lost his seat to Bowman in a bitter 2020 primary.

“I strongly endorse Vedat Gashi for Congress because I know he will always put the residents of the Bronx and Westchester first,” Engel said in a statement obtained exclusively by JI. The new district includes the northern Bronx and the southern half of Westchester County.

When it comes to issues beyond the district, Engel and Gashi share several priorities. Both have an affinity for Kosovo, whose statehood Engel vocally supported in Congress, earning him celebrity status — and a street named after him — in the Balkan country. Gashi also aided Kosovo in its early days of statehood, flying to his birthplace to help draft some of the country’s foundational legal documents.

“I’ve gotten to know [Engel] a little bit through the work in Kosovo,” Gashi said.

Additionally, the two are strong supporters of Israel. Engel, who was known as a staunchly pro-Israel member of Congress,  opposed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and once sponsored a resolution declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital. Gashi supports legislation aimed at expanding the list of Arab nations that have normalized relations with Israel as a result of the Abraham Accords.

“Vedat will always stand with our allies like Israel and Ukraine,” Engel wrote in the statement.

Yesterday, former Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), who has also represented many areas of the redrawn 16th district over her 32-year tenure in Congress, threw her support behind Gashi, whom she called “young, smart, experienced, and hardworking” in a press release announcing the decision.

Lowey’s endorsement is particularly surprising given her connection to Parker, whose late stepfather, Richard Dannenberg, was Lowey’s husband’s partner at the law firm Lowey Dannenberg.

The Bowman-Gashi primary race follows a national pattern of contests pitting progressive candidates versus moderate ones, as Democratic voters choose between two different visions for the country.

Pro-Israel groups such as AIPAC and Democratic Majority For Israel have not put any money into the race, following a practice of targeting districts with open-seat races and incumbents battling primary challenges, rather than investing in a riskier campaign to oust an incumbent.

A source with knowledge of Gashi’s campaign told JI that Gashi trails Bowman in internal polling.

The primary will take place on Aug. 23.