Espaillat has not hesitated to bring up Rangel’s ethical misdeeds. Instead of focusing on the 11 violations related to Rangel’s fundraising for a college wing named for him and his failure to pay taxes on a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic, Espaillat criticizes Rangel for becoming the “face” of Democratic corruption in advance of the 2010 midterms.
“We lost over 60 seats across the country, and we lost the majority,” Espaillat said during Friday’s debate.
Rangel has nothing short of disdain for Espaillat. Rangel regularly accuses the state senator of betraying his word to not run against him.
Espaillat’s biggest challenge may not be the jostling with Rangel, but winning support from the vast Puerto Rican community across Harlem. It’s an open secret that the Puerto Rican and Dominican communities view each other warily, and some Puerto Ricans would rather vote for Rangel and then try to claim the seat with one of their own in 2014.
Adam Clayton Powell IV, the Puerto Rican-born son of the late congressman and Harlem legend whom Rangel defeated in his 1970 primary, has endorsed the incumbent this time despite losing to Rangel in 1994 and 2010.
Rangel also has Puerto Rican roots. His father was Puerto Rican, but Rangel had a terrible relationship with him and has historically self-identified as African-American. He's a co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, and he’s never joined the Hispanic Caucus.
Neil Barthen, 43, a commercial truck driver, epitomizes the short-term problems for Espaillat and the long-term problem for Rangel.
After Rangel’s East Harlem event Friday, Espaillat workers filled the streets outside a walk by the Taino Towers, an affordable housing complex Rangel helped build in 1979 with federal funds. Barthen took a piece of literature calling for a “bold new voice in Congress,” but he won’t be voting for the Dominican.
He said he is willing to support Rangel only because he’s “familiar with him.” Instead, Barthen is considering voting for Craig Schley, 48, a community activist. “He looks like an up-and-coming young man, a strong candidate,” Barthen says of Schley.
At this stage, Rangel’s supporters are desperately trying to turn out voters based on Rangel’s history. “New York City, you owe this man a lot,” Gutierrez pleaded outside City Hall.
Rangel plays on those emotional strings as well, but he won’t formally declare this as his last race. “At 82, there’s really nothing to support or to have a goal other than love of country,” he told reporters Friday. “You have to deal with a higher authority and give me a reading, and then get back to me.”