Many political campaigns can seem like old episodes of CNN’s “Crossfire,” with opponents vying for the biggest applause and loudest opinion. This year’s congressional primary campaign between Rep. Charlie Rangel, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, pastor Michael Walrond Jr. and Yolanda Garcia has not been the exception to the rule.
But the “legacy” versus “new blood” argument will determine the future of Harlem—and all of upper Manhattan—politically. With recently redrawn districts adding some of the Bronx (with its high Latino population) to New York’s 13th Congressional District, Espaillat—who lost to Rangel in a primary bid back in 2012—saw this as his chance to finally take over the seat. But Rangel’s establishment status has made that road a bit tougher.
When the AmNews reached out to Rangel’s campaign, Charlie King, senior advisor to Rangel, had this to say about the end of the campaign and his boss’ prospects for re-election: “From Norwood to Inwood to Harlem, there is strong, grassroots support for Congressman Rangel’s re-election from the voters of the 13th Congressional District.
“We can’t afford to lose the experience and seniority Congressman Rangel brings to the table. The people know they can count on Charlie Rangel to be a champion in Washington, to continue fighting for good jobs, better wages and real immigration reform for the families of this district—and that’s why he is earning their support once again.”
When contacted for comment about his campaign, Espaillat’s representatives talked about the ethnic mosaic that’s upper Manhattan and how their candidate fits into the equation.
“Across every community in the district—white, African-American, Latino—voters are hungry for the change that Adriano Espaillat offers,” said Espaillat spokesperson Chelsea Connor. “He will bring a fresh voice to Congress and be a fighter for more affordable housing, strengthening locally owned small businesses and better immigration laws.”
Race and ethnicity have been one of the many topics of discussion during the candidates’ campaigns. Rangel, part of the African-American establishment in Harlem, is looking to maintain his spot in Congress, while Espaillat will become the first Dominican to hold congressional office if he wins. During a debate at ABC7 “Eyewitness News” studios, Rangel said, “I hope somewhere during this debate … [Espaillat] tries to share what the heck has he done besides saying he’s a Dominican.”
Rangel’s comments received a public reprimand from City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who recently endorsed Espaillat in his run for Congress.
On the attack, Rangel’s campaign directed media outlets to a mailer that it believed came from Espaillat’s campaign. The mailer was delivered to potential voters and accused former state Assemblyman Guillermo Linares of being a “traitor” to Dominicans by siding with Rangel. The incumbent’s campaign gathered up condemnations of Espaillat from other Dominican officials, including Luis Eludis Perez, former consul general of the Dominican Republic, who said, “Instead of attacking Congressman Rangel, who has always been a champion for the Dominican community, Mr. Espaillat should take responsibility for his own divisive actions. It’s time to stop playing the blame game and do what’s right for all of our communities.”
During the ABC7 debate, Espaillat responded to Rangel’s accusations, saying, “You’re the one framing this debate along racial and ethnic lines. To come here and spew division in front of the city and the state is not becoming of you or your title as a congressman. I am deeply disappointed in you today, congressman.”
As the race is seen as a clear battle between Rangel and Espaillat, the two politicians have grabbed as many endorsements as possible to secure their election chances. Espaillat has received the endorsement of unions like the Working Families Party, Communications Workers of America District 1, the Hotel and Motel Trades Council, the United Federation of Teachers, District Council 9 IUPAT, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and the Transport Workers Union Local 100, as well as endorsements from peers like New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson, Bronx County Democratic Party Chair and state Assembly Member Carl E. Heastie, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Assembly Member Karim Camara.
Recently, Espaillat’s campaign sent out an email touting the amount of money it raised in the last two weeks before the primary ($185,100 from “a broad coalition of 300 supporters,” with 41 percent of the donations being $100 or less). Espaillat’s campaign said that signaled a “large, on-the-ground support for his campaign.”
Espaillat felt the same way.
“I am proud of what we have been able to raise in such a short period of time,” Espaillat said. “The broad coalition of support we’ve put together knows that, in Congress, I will unite our district and be a strong voice on issues like affordable housing, truly comprehensive immigration reform and sensible economic development for our community. It’s time for change.”
Rangel has gathered union endorsements from the likes of CSA, 1199SEIU, all three AFSCME-affiliated unions (DC 37, DC 1707 and CSEA), Teamsters Local 237, Uniformed Fire Officers Association, New York State Association of Letter Carriers, Plumbers Union and Local 1, and has collected the sign of approval from peers like former President Bill Clinton, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi, Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, John Lewis, Gregory Meeks and Maxine Waters, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, former Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields, state Assemblyman Keith Wright, New York City Councilwoman Inez Dickens and former Councilman Robert Jackson.
Rangel’s most recent endorsement came from the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), which praised his record of fighting for working-class people.
“As a native New Yorker, I and my members know more than a little about Congressman Charlie Rangel,” said ATU International President Larry Hanley. “Our members know him to be a champion for working people, a tireless worker for his district and a true friend of transit. It is for all these reasons and more that I and the more than 190,000 members of the ATU know him to be the best-qualified candidate among the field.”
Next Tuesday, the constituents of New York’s 13th Congressional District will vote for whoever they feel is the “best-qualified candidate among the field” and possibly change the course of not only congressional politics, but the upper Manhattan politics forever.
“The broad coalition of support we’ve put together knows that in Congress, I will unite our district and be a strong voice on issues like affordable housing, truly comprehensive immigration reform and sensible economic development for our community,” said Espaillat in a statement. “It’s time for change.”
A recent NY1/Siena College/New York Times poll had Rangel at 41 percent, followed by Espaillat at 32 percent, Walrond with 6 percent and Garcia with 5 percent. The next poll, slated to be released before the day of the primary, wasn’t available as of press time. But no matter the numbers, the ball’s now in the voters’ court.