New York Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel held a slim lead in a primary race against state Sen. Adriano Espaillat early Wednesday, as the longtime incumbent looked for a victory that would give him what he’s said will be one last term in Congress.
With almost 99% of precincts reporting, Rangel, the third-longest-serving member of Congress was leading with about 47% of the vote to Espaillat’s 44%. The winner is almost certain to represent Harlem and part of the Bronx in Congress for another two years; there’s no Republican candidate in the race. Rangel faced a repeat challenge from Espaillat in a rapidly changing district just two years after almost losing to the upstart Democrat. Amid health problems in 2012, Rangel, the former House Ways and Means Committee chairman, narrowly defeated the Dominican-American lawmaker by less than 1,100 votes. That came just two years after he was censured by the House of Representatives—and abandoned by many of his Democratic colleagues—for multiple ethics violations.
Rangel addressed supported Tuesday night to declare victory, thanking a long list of staffers and supporters. Down about 1,800 votes, Espaillat had yet to concede early Wednesday morning, telling supporters Tuesday night that the race was too close to call. Absentee and affidavit ballots could potentially close the gap between the candidates. On Tuesday, Espaillat’s campaign circulated a memo highlighting voting irregularities in the district in 2012.
Through a combination of redistricting and neighborhood trends, Rangel’s district, once majority black, is now dominated by Hispanic voters. But Rangel, 84, appeared set to slightly expand on his 2012 margin of victory, despite much of the New York City Democratic establishment deserting him. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Comptroller Scott Stringer and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. backed Espaillat, while Mayor Bill de Blasio and President Barack Obama stayed neutral in the race. Rangel was buoyed by a late endorsement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo this weekend.
Espaillat devoted his campaign to the argument that it was time for a change after 40 years, saying Rangel had abandoned his constituents to do the bidding of Wall Street. Rangel, who was first elected in 1970, campaigned on his experience. He dismissed Espaillat’s challenge in their first debate by saying, “What the heck has he done, besides saying he’s a Dominican?”
Rangel has said his next term would be his last, allowing him to see out the Obama presidency.