Rep. Charlie Rangel Faces Bitter Rematch Against Espaillat for Harlem Congressional District

It’s the rematch of the century, and one that could make history, as state Sen. Adriano Espaillat once again vies for the seat that Rangel has held for more than four decades.

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Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) in 2013

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

It’s Election Day once again in New York, and history is all but repeating itself, with U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel once again coming face-to-face with state Sen. Adriano Espaillat in a Democratic-primary battle for the 13th Congressional District’s seat.

Back in 2012, Rangel won the primary with about 44 percent of the vote, according to New York Times election data, but Espaillat came dangerously close, securing about 41 percent of the vote, with other Democrats trailing far behind with 10 percent or less.

Now Espaillat could be back for revenge against the 84-year-old Korean War veteran. Two years later, the Dominican American is a more familiar figure and has a better idea of how to get organized. But that doesn’t mean the veteran incumbent is going down without a fight.

“I don’t know how old fire horses feel, but as soon as I heard that gong, I’ve been going ever since,” Rangel told a group of reporters last Friday, according to Politico. “I can’t stop, and I don’t want to.”

The powerful Democratic politician, who was the first African American to chair the House Ways and Means Committee, has enjoyed the security of his seat since he was first elected in the early 1970s, winning by wide margins as a matter of course.

That all changed two years ago, when the lines of his Harlem-based district were redrawn, prompting a demographic shift that made voting-age Hispanics, who used to make up about 44 percent of his old district, the majority.

Concerns about Rangel’s age and health—he suffered from a spinal viral infection in 2012, causing him to walk with a cane—only added momentum to Espaillat’s candidacy.

It didn’t help that Rangel’s record as a politician isn’t spotless. The House censured him after he was convicted of 12 ethics violations in 2010.

Still, he’s continued to beat the odds and come out on top, but many of his old problems remain. Rangel can’t change his age, district lines, conviction or censure. It also doesn’t help that mainstream Democrats, such as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and President Barack Obama, have remained silent about this race, not making any of the usual endorsements.

His health, however, has apparently been much better. He’s back to moving around on his own, as vivacious as ever, Politico noted.

According to the political news site, a reporter asked Rangel what he would tell those who have said he’s too old to run again, even though the reporter’s “mom would kick” him for asking such a question.

“How old’s your mom?” Rangel asked the reporter.

“She’s your age,” the reporter said. “She’s 84.”

“Tell her [for me], ‘Let’s go dancing sometime,’” Rangel joked.

He also held a dance party outside a hamburger restaurant called the Harlem Shake that posts the “Charlie Rangel Special,” dancing to Jay Z and the Jackson 5.

Recovery or not, the fact doesn’t change that Rangel has found quite the challenger in Espaillat, and this race is expected to be a showdown between the two, even though two other Democrats—Michael A. Walrond Jr., a minister, and community activist Yolanda Garcia—are also on the ballot.

Espaillat has framed his campaign around the theme of Rangel’s incredible stint in the House—one of the longest in history—saying that the older man has been in action for “far too long,” Politico notes. 

“We’re going to vote him out of office,” Espaillat told supporters on Saturday, according to Politico. “We have a new vision, and we’re going to win next Tuesday, June 24.”

Read more at Politico.

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