New York Representative Eliot Engel was overheard on a hot mic Tuesday saying that he "wouldn't care" about speaking at an event about recent protests inif he didn't have a primary coming up. His opponent in that primary tells CBSN the comment "captures everything that is wrong with too many in Washington."
Local station News 12 captured Engel, a Democrat, making the comment at a press conference in the Bronx following another night of civil unrest following the death of George Floyd. In a clip posted on Twitter, Engel is seen talking to Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. about whether he'll be able to speak at the event. Diaz is heard telling Engel there's a "list" of planned speakers and there might be too many people.
"If I didn't have a primary, I wouldn't care," Engel says. When Diaz doesn't hear him, Engel says it again.
"Don't do that to me," Diaz replies. "We're not going to do this, we're not politicizing. Everybody's got a primary, you know?"
After the clip went viral, Engel issued a statement saying his upcoming primary made him feel compelled to speak at the event.
"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's statement said. "Of course I care deeply about what's happening in this country, that's what I wanted to convey. I love the Bronx, grew up in the Bronx and lived here all my life. I would not have tried to impose on the Borough President if I didn't think it was important."
Engel has been in Congress since 1989 and has represented his current district, which includes parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, since 2013. He is also the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
On June 23, he will face his first serious primary challenge in years from Jamaal Bowman, a public school principal backed by progressive groups.
"He was very clear, if he wasn't in the primary race, he would not care about speaking to his constituents," Bowman said Wednesday during an appearance on CBSN.
Bowman also accused Engel of ignoring his district during the coronavirus pandemic. The Atlantic reported in May that Engel hadn't visited his district since late March.
"People throughout the district told us he is not present, he is not engaged, he doesn't care and it's time for a change," Bowman told CBSN.
"Our elected officials are supposed to serve the people in their community, particularly those who are hurting the most," he added. "And that video was painful and heartbreaking to watch."