Race intrigues as black and Hispanic pols hold allegiances to both
Mariela Lombard for New York Daily News
Rep. Charles Rangel, 81, will face a challenge from State Sen. Adriano Espaillat in June.
State Sen. Adriano Espaillat will announce next week that he is challenging U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel in a June primary for Harlem’s congressional seat.
Such a contest could roil the city’s ethnic and racial politics more than any election in the past quarter-century — but not the way most people expect.
Rangel, after all, is the dean of New York’s congressional delegation and has been an iconic figure in the city’s African-American community for decades.
He remains popular among Democratic Party leaders, even after he was removed as chairman of a powerful House committee chairmanshipand even after he suffered a humiliating censure from his colleagues for failing to pay taxes on income from overseas properties and other ethical lapses.
Many of Rangel’s longtime supporters privately admit that although he’s been a good congressman, they wish he would just retire gracefully. But the 81-year-old former Korean War veteran simply refuses to do so, and they remain loyal to him.
In Espaillat, however, Rangel faces a significant threat. That’s because newly drawn lines for the congressional district now stretch into the Bronx, and Hispanics are now a majority of the entire district.
A victory by Espaillat, 56, would make him the first Dominican-American elected to Congress. What’s more, for a Latino to capture the lone congressional seat from Harlem would definitely grab national attention.
But this race will not break down along simple black-Latino lines.
If anything, it may exacerbate conflicts between the city’s two biggest Hispanic communities, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans.
Several key Puerto Rican leaders within the congressional district have already thrown their support to Rangel. They include State Sen. Jose Serrano Jr. and Assemblyman Roberto Rodriguez of East Harlem, as well as Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.
Key Dominican leaders like City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez of Washington Heights and Nelson Castro of the West Bronx are backing Espaillat.
But several well-known Dominican leaders are refusing to rally to Espaillat’s camp.
“I’ve been a loyal Democrat for 30 years and have always sought to build racial unity,” Maria Luna, a district leader in Washington Heights, said. “I’m backing Charlie because he has been good to our community, and if Adriano were to replace him, it won’t make that much difference in Washington.”
Likewise, Assemblyman Guillermo Linares of Washington Heights, who more than 20 years ago became the first Dominican elected to the City Council, is so far noncommittal.
Just as there are divisions among Latinos in the contest, Rangel must contend with opposition within the black community. Several African-Americans challenged him two years ago and are expected to do so again.
Harlem State Sen. Bill Perkins plans to meet with Espaillat this weekend to discuss the campaign.
Perkins says he is wary about a possible “switcheroo.”
Many insiders suspect Rangel, who has been ill for months, plans to run for office only to resign and arrange for his designated successor, Assemblyman Keith Wright, to be handed the congressional seat.
“Charlie fully intends to run and serve out his term, and those rumors are nonsense,” said Bill Lynch, who has been marshaling laborunion support for Rangel.
But Perkins and others aren’t convinced.
“I’m not going to be complicit to any kind of secret arrangement,” Perkins said. “The congressman needs to make clear his intentions. The seat does not belong to him. It belongs to the voters.”