Two things are decisive in the race for the 13th Congressional District seat that has been filled for the past 46 years by the retiring Rep. Charles B. Rangel. When the district was redrawn before the 2012 election, an act many viewed as gerrymandering, it included large swaths of the Bronx. That was the first death knell of the district represented by an African-American since its inception in 1945, when Adam Clayton Powell Jr. began his long tenure.
A second, more complicated factor is the presence of a handful of Black candidates, as it was in the recent election, but also evident in the 2014 race between Rangel and Adriano Espaillat. If the numbers hold up in the current race, Espaillat will take the leadership of the boomerang-shaped district and become the first Dominican-American to win a seat in Congress.
In one way, the voters in the district have spoken, but in another more disturbing way, African-Americans view themselves as victims of the redrawing of lines that tilted the demographic majority they once commanded.
The lines have been drawn and how they may change in the future is beyond our poor powers to see. A better answer may be found in the overall turnout, which favors the Latino voters, particularly in the Bronx and Washington Heights. And, of course, an African-American representative would be more likely if they could unite behind one candidate.
There is still the possibility of a Black representative, if Assemblyman Keith Wright’s bid falls short. Republican Tony Evans is an African-American, but his victory is impossible without a protest vote from crestfallen Black Democrats in the district.
Hey, don’t despair. In two years we will be at this again, and whoever the successful freshman candidate is this time, he has very little time to learn the tricky, dysfunctional terrain in Washington, D.C., before he is once more on the campaign trail.