After 43 Years in Congress, Rangel Fights for One More Term Against Tough Challenger

Will the people of Harlem give Charlie Rangel one more term in the House? That’s one of the most compelling questions in the country as many states hold primary elections today.

In the final days before the election, Rangel was roaring through his district, which now also encompasses part of the Bronx, like a man many years younger than his 84 years. He was dancing onstage to rap music, regaling reporters and supporters with colorful stories, and hitting a slew of churches in the 13th Congressional District, according to published reports.

Rangel beat his rival, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, a Democrat, by under 1,000 votes in 2012, so many observers are expecting him to lose to Espaillat this time. But although many prominent Democrats like President Obama, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Rev. Al Sharpton (whose close associate Rev. Michael Walrond Jr. is also running for the seat) have declined to endorse Rangel, a NY1/Siena College poll last week of voters in the district showed him comfortably ahead of Espaillat by 47-34 percent. Rangel also picked up a late endorsement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

But insiders say the diverse district is notoriously hard to poll and they believe the race will be a lot closer. If he wins, Espaillat would become the nation’s first Dominican-American member of the House.

In 2012, in addition to coming off his censure by the House in 2010 for ethic violations, Rangel was ill, suffering from a spinal infection that limited his mobility and thus his ability to campaign. But this time reporters describe him as spry and possessing so much energy that his aides have a hard time keeping up.

“It’s time to change when the people believe there’s someone who can do better,” Rangel told reporters on Friday afternoon, according to Politico. “I just can’t believe in all honesty that any of the three other candidates have given one scintilla of evidence, besides their own ambition, that this district should change.”

Rangel is a New York institution, ruling over Harlem for the last 43 years after toppling the legendary Adam Clayton Powell in 1971.

“I don’t know how old fire horses feel, but as soon as I heard that gong, I’ve been going ever since,” he said. “I can’t stop, and I don’t want to.”

Asked if he felt sorry for the harsh rhetoric he’d used against Espaillat, Rangel said, “Yes,” in a tone of mock sorrow. “I have attacked his record, and I shouldn’t have. Because there is no record.”

For his part, Espaillat has been gearing up for this rematch for the last two years.

“Sonny Liston was a big, bad bear when he got into the ring, but (Muhammad) Ali was faster, smarter than him,” Espaillat said, comparing himself to Ali. “He was able to draw circles around him, and he shook up the world and he changed boxing.”


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