“It is clear through a number of recent public polls that Latinos are mainly concerned about economic matters—specifically, the cost of living, adequate wages, and affordable housing.”

Jarrett Murphy

Outside a Bronx polling site on primary day.

No matter your politics, you’ll probably agree that the NY-16 congressional primary, pitting the incumbent Congressman Jamaal Bowman against Westchester County Executive George Latimer, will be the most contested congressional primary battle this coming June.

The race thus far has been driven largely by the Israel-Gaza crisis. Bowman has been a staunch advocate of the Palestinian cause, decrying Israel’s response to the awful Hamas attack on Oct. 7. Those defending Israel have railed against Bowman, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the largest pro-Israel lobby group, has already poured millions into the race to support Latimer’s run.

Yet while the Israel-Palestine crisis will surely be the issue that garners the most attention in this hotly contested race, Latinos could be the swing vote, contends long-time Latino commentator Howard Jordan. A close inspection of voter data, past election results, and current electoral dynamics suggest he’s right.

The 16th congressional district, covering parts of Westchester and the Bronx, has over 313,000 Democratic voters. The eventual winner of the Democratic primary will be the presumptive winner in November, since the district is heavily Democratic and thus is not in play for Republicans. Of these voters, 21 percent are Latino, 42 percent of whom live in the city of Yonkers. The bulk of the rest of Latinos in this district are in Westchester County, residing in cities like New Rochelle, Mount Vernon, and White Plains, with 13 percent in the Bronx portion.

The familiar growth of Latino communities in various sections of New York is certainly true in this mostly suburban district. While Yonkers has long had a large and mostly Puerto Rican voting population, other suburban cities in the district, like New Rochelle and Mount Vernon, have experienced significant Latino population growth over the last couple of decades. New Rochelle also recently elected the first Afro-Latino mayor in its history.

All these numbers highlight the critical role that Latino voters will play in determining the outcome of the primary. There is no doubt that, should Latimer or Bowman ignore this important base, it would be at their own peril. Interestingly, both candidates have previously represented these areas, Bowman in Congress and Latimer as Westchester County Executive. 

 As a political observer and analyst but also as a voter in this district, I note that thus far both candidates have failed to engage Latino voters adequately. Initial mailers (and there have been plenty between the candidates and the respective PACs weighing in on the race) did not articulate their messages in both Spanish and English, and it has not been Latinos who have been out canvassing, or reaching Latino voters in their homes. Latimer’s campaign, however, has recently been more intentional about utilizing bilingual messaging.

It is clear through a number of recent public polls that Latinos are mainly concerned about economic matters—specifically, the cost of living, adequate wages, and affordable housing. Bowman’s progressive stance and advocacy for marginalized communities may resonate with many Latino voters who seek representation that understands their struggles and aspirations. On the other hand, Latimer’s extensive experience in local government and his focus on practical solutions may appeal to Latino voters looking for stability and tangible results.

As Election Day approaches, both campaigns would do well to intensify their outreach efforts, focusing on the issues that matter most to Latino communities, and communicating this message in a culturally sensitive and intentional way. The candidate who successfully addresses these concerns and builds a strong rapport with Latino voters will have an added advantage come Tuesday night.

Eli Valentin is a former Gotham Gazette contributor, founder of the Institute for Latino Politics and executive director of a new Latino studies program at Virginia Union University. He lives in New York with his family.