Rangel Wins Primary in Redrawn New York Congressional District

Representative Charles Rangel
Representative Charles Rangel told supporters last night, “If they didn’t think after 42 years that I was the best-qualified, I promise them that in the next two years they’ll have no question about the fact that we’re the best.” Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Charles Rangel, who has represented New York City’s Harlem neighborhood in Congress for more than 41 years and once served as chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, survived a Democratic primary challenge in his redrawn district.

Rangel led state Senator Adriano Espaillat by 45.2 percent to 39.8 percent with 84 percent of the unofficial vote count reported by Associated Press. Democrats make up about 97 percent of the district, so winning the primary almost ensures that Rangel, 82, the co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, will return to Washington in 2013 for a another two-year term.

It was Rangel’s first campaign since the House censured him in December 2010 for 11 ethics violations, including failure to disclose and pay taxes on rental income from a house he owned in the Dominican Republic. Rangel prevailed even after a federal judge this year redrew the district to include more Latinos and fewer blacks.

“Ethics charges and ethnic change didn’t matter,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic consultant not involved in the race. “The voters kept Charlie Rangel despite everything, and that means Harlem still rules uptown politics.”

Espaillat, 57, was seeking to become the first Dominican member of U.S. Congress. He campaigned saying the censure had reduced Rangel’s effectiveness and made him a “poster child for dysfunction in Washington.”

Helped by Rockefeller

New York traditionally holds primaries in September. This year, a federal judge moved the congressional primary to June to comply with a U.S. law requiring military personnel serving overseas to get ballots at least 45 days before the November general election.

“If they didn’t think after 42 years that I was the best-qualified, I promise them that in the next two years they’ll have no question about the fact that we’re the best,” Rangel told supporters last night at a victory celebration at a Harlem restaurant.

Rangel entered Congress in 1970 with support from former Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Working his way up the seniority system -- he has served longer than all but three current House members -- Rangel in 2007 became chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which helps write U.S. tax and trade policy. He gave up the chairmanship in 2010 while under scrutiny by the House Ethics Committee.

Bronx Streets

After the state Legislature failed to agree on congressional boundaries, Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann, using 2010 census data, created a new 13th District. It took away much of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where Rangel had won votes for decades, and extended the northern border into Latino areas of the Bronx, where Rangel had never campaigned.

“When I’m walking the streets of the Bronx, I feel my district in the blood, in the minds, in the ambitions and the things that people want for their children,” Rangel said.

The congressman also faced challenges from three other candidates, all black, who together received about 15 percent of the vote, according to AP.

“The other three candidates took from the anti-Rangel vote and hurt Espaillat,” Sheinkopf said.

Robert Shapiro, a Columbia University political scientist, attributed Rangel’s victory to his edge as a well-known incumbent in a low-turnout election.

“Latino turnout, while perhaps on the rise, trails African-American turnout nationwide and almost certainly in Rangel’s long-standing base,” Shapiro said.

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