Today, June 24, is Federal Primary Day—which means it's the day of reckoning for long, long, long time Congressman Charles Rangel. The Democrat wants a 23rd term (!!) in the House representing the 13th District, but his main challenger, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, nearly unseated him in the 2012 primary, losing by just over 1000 votes. Will this be a valedictory term for Rangel, or the passing of the torch to Espaillat? Here's a look at the race:
Rangel: The 84-year-old Korean War veteran had been an uncontested leader since 1971, but ethics violations over the past few years, like his multiple rent-stabilized apartments, financial mishaps and his work to solicit donations for a City College center named after himself, have made him vulnerable to challenges.
After being censured, he lost his powerful role as the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Oh, and while he was the chairman, he'd do things like preserve a tax loophole that saved an oil company hundreds of millions (the company's executive promised $1 million to the CUNY school being named after Rangel).
Espaillat: Winning the primary would make the 59-year-old the first Dominican-American in Congress. Many unions have shifted their support to Espaillat, and changing demographics of Harlem give him a lot of room for a win. From the NY Times:
The historic potential for each man could come in spite of, or because of, significant geographic and demographic shifts in the 13th Congressional District. After the 2010 census, the district was redrawn to pair Harlem and other neighborhoods of Upper Manhattan with a swath of the Bronx, transforming it from a community known for its influence in black politics, local and national, into one that is majority Hispanic.
However, his weak point is repealing the city's commuter tax in 1999. The Daily News explains, "The law repealed a tax on suburbanites and others who commute to New York City for work but live outside the five boroughs. It has cost the city $9.7 billion since it was repealed, according to the city’s Office of Management and Budget." Today Espaillat admits he wishes he voted differently, telling the News' editorial board, "Back then, it was during the Giuliani days, and I felt that we weren't getting our fair share of funding, the district that I represented. [I thought] that perhaps if you gave somebody an extra ten, twenty dollars in their pocket they would spend it locally and that was my mindset. But I recognize it was a bad vote." Espaillat does have the backing of the increasingly influential Working Families Party.
Endorsements: Rangel got the Daily News' endorsement (he "outclasses ...Espaillat, in experience, depth of knowledge, Washington connections and a record of delivering for New Yorkers,"), while Espaillat has the backing of the NY Times ("It’s time for a change"). Rangel also has endorsements from former president Bill Clinton and Governor Andrew Cuomo, while Espaillat has Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and former Comptroller Bill Thompson rallying for him.
View New York 13th District in a larger map
Race-baiting: During a televised debate, Rangel accused Espaillat of running on his race, "I hope somewhere during this debate…to try to share with the listening and watching audience just what the heck has he done besides saying he’s Dominican?" That did not go over well with Espaillat—or the Rev. Al Sharpton, who said, "This race should be decided on issues. Any diversion from the issues and to play to emotions is an insult to the intelligence of the people in the district." Sharpton, notably, is not endorsing anyone (possibly because another candidate is the Rev. Michael Walrond.)
The polls: A NY1-Siena College poll has Rangel leading by 13 points, with 47% of likely votes to Espaillat's 34%. However, Espaillat's campaign team has suggested that the poll undercounts Latino voters.
Voting: Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 9 p.m. for registered Democrats. The Daily Politics points out the biggest thing about this election is turn-out, "Espaillat needs to generate excitement that translates into votes. Rangel, as the incumbent with the name ID, benefits if only traditional voters show up." Also: "Expect complaints not only about voting machine screw-ups, but about check-ins, people having to use affidavit ballots, and the availability of Spanish-language translation at pollsites."