A DC Insider Seeks to Unseat Rangel

Will Clyde Williams' presidential ties help him topple New York's longest-serving congressman?

(The Root) -- "I'm not a politician, I've never run for anything in my life," says Clyde Williams quickly in the basement of his Harlem campaign headquarters.

Thanks to the bustle of his 123rd Street office in Manhattan, boasting nine staffers, a gaggle of portable air conditioners and several empty pizza boxes, the open space upstairs was too loud to hear Williams' election plans. Sitting downstairs next to two slices he's saved for his wife, Mona Sutphen, Williams seems confident in his chances of gaining Charlie Rangel's seat in the House of Representatives by winning the June 26 primary in a largely Democratic district. This, despite many reports that the race is between the feisty incumbent and State Sen. Adriano Espaillat.

Rangel, a Congressional Black Caucus founding member, has represented the Harlem community's 15th District since 1971 and is going through a bruising fight to save his seat and his formidable reputation. In 2010, just ahead of the investigation into a misuse of funds, Rangel stepped down as chair of the prestigious House Ways and Means Committee. Later, after admitting impropriety, Rangel was censured by the House. Earlier this month, Rangel demanded an investigation of Congress' probe into his actions.

Nevertheless, on Tuesday, the 82-year-old's name will be on the ballot.

"I never talk about Rangel's ethics issues," Williams, 50, says. "People want us to improve their lives."

Still, the incumbent's problems muddle his chances for re-election and reflect a changing of the guard in Harlem. Williams seeks to represent a new order of leadership in the district.

"We need to hold people accountable," Williams says, pointing to the unemployment rate of 14 percent of blacks in New York City, according to recent Labor Department data. "I've seen people, some of whom are Congressional Black Caucus members, say 'Obama hasn't solved unemployment in the black community.' They've been elected, probably for a combined 400 years [if you total their terms in office]. They're supposed to solve these problems, too. So much more could've been done if there was a greater effort put into how we solve these problems.

"If people trained for the jobs that existed today, the jobless rate would probably be around 7 percent," Williams continues. "There's money to do it. We can train people to be nurses, electricians, plumbers and auto mechanics."

The historically African-American 13th District was recently redrawn to include parts of East Harlem and bits of the Bronx, where Dominican-American candidate Espaillat has strong ties. The district is now 55 percent Latino, which is seen as giving the state senator an edge. (Rangel's father was Puerto Rican, but he does not emphasize that side of his heritage). But Williams, who is black, says his support is secure.

"Harlem hasn't been majority-black for a while," Williams says. "People vote based on issues, and if they believe that I can improve their lives, then they'll vote for me."

Many local press believe in Williams' brand. The candidate boasts endorsements from the New York Times and the Daily News among others (the New York Amsterdam News, the city's signature black newspaper, endorsed Rangel). But if Williams really wants to represent Harlem's new generation, he'll have to prove it.