Rep. Charlie Rangel attends the Puerto Rican Day Parade on the streets of Manhattan on Sunday in New York City. A potent alignment of forces is making this contest the most difficult race of the veteran Democrats career.
Perhaps the force that rankles Rangel the most is the inevitable low turnout of a late June primary. New York has historically held its primaries in September, but a judge recently insisted on moving Congressional ones to June.
It’s problematic, Rangel acknowledges, and so are the abysmal approval ratings of Congress.
“They love voting for the president of the United States. They love voting for the governor. State legislators are closer to home,” Rangel says. “But the Congress [gets blamed for] every damn thing wrong in the world.”
He adds: “You add onto that that it’s not in November, dammit; it’s not in September, dammit; it’s in June, dammit — and we just told them last month! That’s a rough one.”
Another one of the forces that makes this a challenging race: The Campaign for Primary Accountability, a Texas-based anti-incumbent super PAC, has its sights set on Rangel.
His district has also changed. It now includes a chunk of the Bronx, a borough that Rangel has never represented.
When he was first elected, just under three-quarters of his district’s residents were black. After this year’s redistricting, Rangel’s newly configured district will only be about one-third black. It’s now a majority-Hispanic district, including big populations of Dominicans and Puerto Ricans.
Rangel, whose father was Puerto Rican, moves easily among an almost completely Latino crowd, dotted with notable New York politicos, at a Puerto Rican Day Parade breakfast in a Times Square hotel ballroom Sunday. People greet him like an old friend. “Hey, Charlie,” one smiling woman says.
Recovering from a back injury that kept him away from the Capitol for a long stretch earlier this year, Rangel carries a silver cane, but he uses it more to gesticulate than help him walk.
On the dais, he is greeted warmly by Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), who has endorsed him. A few moments later, Christine Quinn, the Speaker of the New York City Council, gives a short speech to the crowd.
“Make sure we go out and ... re-elect Charlie Rangel!” she yells.
Espaillat is at the event as well but gets the last speaking spot, when there are only about dozen people left sitting in the ballroom.
Bronx Is Up
In New York, the state of the Cuomos, the Clintons and Sen. Charles Schumer (D), political superlatives ought to be thrown around carefully. Still, Espaillat is easily the most ambitious challenger Rangel has faced.
“His level of ambition and aggressiveness is something to behold,” says an aide to one New York Democratic Member. “And I say that within the context of some very ambitious Manhattan politicians.”
Espaillat gets up early and goes to bed late. On Friday, coming back from Washington, D.C., he didn’t get home until 1 a.m., but he is out campaigning under an outdoor Bronx subway stop six and half hours later.
He flips from Spanish to English, depending on the commuter.
“Buenos dias, señor,” he says, greeting a voter going from the neighborhood to the subway. “How are you today? Good to see you. Come out and vote, alright? Á votar veintiséis.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.