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.
With metronome-like precision, he repeats the key point that he wants potential voters to take away from their very short interaction with him: Vote on June 26.
Most crack a smile, take his literature, shake his hand and then skim it as they walk up the steps to the subway platform.
Espaillat, whose state Senate district is mostly in the reconfigured 13th Congressional district, explains why he has been spending a lot of time in the Bronx.
“What I get in Northern Manhattan, he gets in Harlem, so, like, it balances itself out. This should be a decisive neighborhood,” he says, as a 4 train clacks overhead toward Manhattan.
Espaillat’s literature promises a Congressman who has “bold, new ideas,” but what differentiates him from Rangel, besides his relative youth, isn’t exactly clear.
“His influence has been dramatically diluted after his issues,” Espaillat explains, declining to specify what those issues are.
Rangel was censured in December 2010 for ethical violations.
Rangel allies argue that he still retains immense influence that a new Congressman just couldn’t match.
“A fresh, wet-behind-the-ears Congressperson will have the best intentions but will not be able to accomplish in their initial 10 years, what this Congressman can accomplish in six months,” Peggy Morales, a Democratic district leader, later tells Roll Call.
An Espaillat aide is handing out literature a few feet in front of the state Senator, so some commuters have already had a chance to peruse it by the time they get to the candidate.
“You look better in person,” a young woman tells him, holding his flier.
“I need your vote, OK?” Espaillat replies, undeterred from his message even by a compliment.
Many top New York politicians have compliments of their own for Rangel and his strong establishment support is part of why New York City insiders still think he’ll win his primary, if barely. But the once-vaunted Harlem political machine isn’t what it used to be. And it doesn’t stretch to the Bronx, where Espaillat is focused on running up a high vote total. In a low-turnout election, with four other candidates on the ballot, it might be enough to squeak out a victory. Or it at least sets him up to be the frontrunner when Rangel retires.
But for now, Rangel finds it important to explain why he’s still running. He asks and then answers his own question: “What the hell are you trying to prove? Haven’t you done enough in 80 years?”
“The answer is: If I can support the initiatives that we started, how can I possibly sit on the sidelines?” he says. “How could I spend the next two years, looking and wondering, what could I do? For all the efforts I spent my life, I can’t do it.”
Rangel gets into the passenger seat of his Cadillac, gives a salute and a wide-mouthed grin and then is off to the 54th annual Puerto Rican Day Parade.