New York's congressional primaries haven't attracted quite as much attention in the state or nationally as did the presidential contests last month. Some New Yorkers are probably aware that they're happening; some smaller group will actually go vote. But in Harlem, just north of Central Park in Manhattan, a bit of history will be made: Democratic voters will pick their party's nominee for the state's 13th Congressional District, a candidate who will then almost certainly win election to the House in November.
And in doing so, that person will become only the neighborhood's third congressman since 1945.
In 1944, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. won election to the House as the state's first black representative. When he took office, Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, Thomas Dewey was the state's governor and Fiorello La Guardia was the city's mayor. When he was replaced by Charlie Rangel in 1971, there had been five more presidents, three more governors, four more mayors and 10 different senators. Rangel still serves the neighborhood, as he has for 45 years — the 11th-longest tenure in House history. But Rangel decided not to run for reelection in 2016, and so the streak will come to an end.
It's hard to describe how much history has passed over the course of the congressional tenures of Harlem's two black representatives, so we created a visual that will hopefully give a better sense.
Reps. Powell and Rangel outlasted presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and both Bushes. They outlasted governors Harriman, Rockefeller, Wilson, Carey, Pataki, Spitzer, Paterson and one of the two Cuomos. They served longer than did senators Mead, Ives, Keating, Kennedy, Goodell, Buckley, Moynihan, Wagner, Dulles, Lehman, Javits, D'Amato and Hillary Clinton combined. Their tenures were longer than those of mayors La Guardia, O'Dwyer, Impellitteri, Wagner, Lindsay, Beame, Koch, Dinkins, Giuliani and Bloomberg. There have been nearly 50 people who've served in those positions, while Harlem has seen two people in the House.
We noted last year that the nation is only four presidents' lives old: Barack Obama was alive at the same time as Herbert Hoover, who was alive at the same time as Andrew Johnson — who was alive at the same time as John Adams. At GovTrack, they figured that America's slightly younger than that: It's been around for only three congressmembers' lives (specifically John Conyers, Warren Keifer and Paine Wingate).
Most Americans, though, have another metric: They're only two congressional tenures old. Nearly everyone in the country was born after Powell took office. A huge portion (including myself) has been alive for less time than Rangel has been on Capitol Hill.
Next January, that streak comes to an end.