After 42 years in Congress, New York elder statesmen Rep. Charlie Rangel is trying not to let his age become a big deal in his campaign to hold onto his Harlem seat.
Rangel has weathered a number of challengers over the years and has endured a recent ethics scandal, but the 82-year-old continues to resist the pleas of many for him to retire and let some young hotshot take the reins. A story in the New York Times about Rangel’s 82nd birthday celebration depicts the Congressman as trying adamantly to distract attention from his age—at a birthday party intended to celebrate his age. Rangel stood and lip synched and swayed to the sounds of R&B singer Chuck Jackson, who was performing, but when he sat back down Rangel—who recently fought off a spinal viral infection—was not about to get up and work the room in the manner of most politicians. No, if you wanted an audience, you would have to come to him.
As the Times pointed out, among Rangel’s challengers for the seat, the oldest is 62-year-old Joyce Johnson, a former liquor company executive, while the youngest is former model Craig Schley, 48. State Senator Adriano Espaillat, 57, is perhaps the strongest challenger.
While his supporters point to his seniority as being his greatest asset—they claim he can leverage it to bring millions of federal dollars to New York—others say it is time for him to help groom a new generation of leaders.
Basil A. Smikle Jr., a political consultant who is not working for any of the candidates, told the Times that Rangel’s reluctance to give up power is typical of his generation of black leaders.
“I don’t think the older generation was very good at leaving — at perpetuating their legacy through a younger generation,” Smikle said. “In many of their minds, black history stops with them.”