His remarks come just weeks before New York’s primary elections on June 23.
By SARAH FERRIS
Rep. Eliot Engel became engulfed in yet another controversy on Tuesday after he was overheard on a “hot mic” saying he only sought press attention at a local event on the unrest over police brutality because of his upcoming primary threat.
“If I didn't have a primary, I wouldn’t care,” the New York Democrat told Ruben Diaz Jr., the Bronx borough president, as he asked for time to speak at a news conference on local vandalism.
The comments — which Engel didn’t know were being recorded by a local television station — quickly went viral. The 12-second clip was viewed more than 700,000 times by Tuesday afternoon. In a statement issued later, Engel clarified that he asked to speak because he wanted to convey that “I care deeply about what's happening in this country.”
“In the context of running for reelection, I thought it was important for people to know where I stand, that's why I asked to speak,” Engel said in his statement. “I would not have tried to impose on the Borough President if I didn't think it was important.”
Engel's remarks come just weeks before New York’s primary elections on June 23, when the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman will face his most serious threat from within his own party since 2000. His challenger is Jamaal Bowman, a public school principal who has gained significant momentum in his bid to unseat Engel this month.
Engel has represented New York since 1989, and his district now includes parts of the Bronx and Westchester County. It has become a top target for progressive groups like Justice Democrats, who have rallied behind Bowman, arguing that he would better represent the rapidly diversifying district.
The senior Democrat had already come under fire in recent weeks after a report revealed that Engel had not spent any time in his New York district — which has been ravaged by the coronavirus outbreak — since late March.
Engel’s fate seemed to be further in question this week, after another of his rivals from the left, Andom Ghebreghiorgis, dropped out of the primary race and endorsed Bowman in an apparent show of solidarity.
Bowman said Tuesday that he wasn’t surprised by the flub.
“It’s disgusting, it’s abhorrent, it’s unfortunate, and it’s disappointing, but it’s not surprising,” Bowman told POLITICO.
“It just exemplifies and shows everything we already knew,” he said of the hot mic comment. “To say if I didn’t have a primary I wouldn’t care, it captures everything not just wrong with him but the political system.”
Erin Durkin contributed to this report.