Despite a spirited challenge, New York voters on Tuesday appeared to grant another two years to the “congressman from Harlem.”
Charles B. Rangel, a 22-term incumbent who has served as the face of Harlem politics since 1971, declared victory late Tuesday night in his Democratic primary against state Sen. Adriano Espaillat. The winner of the Democratic primary is expected to coast to re-election to his left-leaning congressional seat in November.
Rangel took the stage at his election night party and declared victory just before midnight with close to 99% of votes counted and holding a 47 percent to 44 percent lead. As of 12:30 a.m., Espaillat had not conceded the race.
The race was a rematch of a 2012 showdown between Rangel and Espaillat in which the incumbent – at the time plagued by and ethical scandal that cost him much of his power on the Hill – asked Harlem voters to allow him at least one more term.
But, when Rangel, 84, announced last year that he would again seek re-election, Espaillat announced that he would again challenge Rangel – basing much of his campaign on the notion that it was time for new leadership in the district.
During his 44 years in office, Rangel, became one of best-known political figures in American politics and a defining voice in the nation’s black politics. The longest-serving member of the influential New York delegation, he was one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus and over time came to represent one of the standards of Democratic liberalism.
Yet despite his status as an institution in Harlem and Democratic politics, Rangel has spent much of the last decade entrenched in scandal.
This year’s campaign focused both on whether Rangel had stayed in office too long as well as the seismic shifts in the demographics of Harlem.
In recent years, Rangel’s district has been re-carved, turning what has for years been a majority-black district into one that is 52 percent Hispanic and adding new parts of the Bronx where Rangel is not as well-known or as well-regarded.
Political observers had speculated that, given those demographic shifts, this could be the year that Rangel was ousted. But, in recent weeks, the 22-term incumbent looked resilient.
He was 13 percentage points ahead in the race’s final poll, an NY1/Siena College survey that earlier this month measured him at 47 percent support compared with Espaillat’s 34 percent. The poll found Rangel with a commanding 76 percent among black voters vs. Espaillat’s 6 percent, while Espaillat was ahead 53 percent to 29 percent among Latino voters.
Rangel had lobbied sharp attacks at Espaillat, and called in many favors from friends in D.C. In recent weeks, he secured endorsements and campaign appearances from former President Bill Clinton, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, among others.