U.S. Representative Charles Rangel of New York has claimed victory in his Democratic primary as he seeks a 23rd term, but votes were still being counted on Wednesday as his main challenger refused to concede defeat until every vote was tallied.
Rangel, an African-American who has been the face of Harlem politics for 40 years, held a slim 1,800 vote lead over state Senator Adriano Espaillat with nearly 100 percent of election districts reporting.
Hundreds of absentee ballots in the district, which includes Harlem and part of the Bronx, were yet to be counted and verified, according to the New York State Board of Elections.
With almost all precincts reporting, Rangel was leading 47 percent to 44 percent, according to NY1, a local television station, which called Rangel the winner.
In this liberal bastion of New York City, where blacks and Latinos form the majority, the winner of the Democratic primary is all but guaranteed to win the general election for the House of Representatives seat in November.
After NY1 called the race in his favor late Tuesday, Rangel, 84, declared to uproarious applause among supporters in East Harlem: "This was your victory."
"You can rest assured all I will be doing is thinking about you and bringing resources back home," he said.
But at Espaillat's headquarters, the state senator who hopes to become the first Dominican-American elected to Congress told crowds chanting his name that he intended to see the race through until very outstanding ballot was counted.
"We feel this race is too close to call," he said.
The race was a rematch between Rangel and Espaillat. Two years ago, Espaillat, 59, came within 1,000 votes of ousting Rangel after the district boundaries were redrawn moving it from majority black to majority Latino.
The two men had few policy disagreements, but sparred over whether it was time for Rangel, who has indicated this will be his last election, to yield to the next generation of politicians.
Rangel, who entered Congress in 1971, was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
But his political brand was dealt a serious blow in 2010, when he was censured by the House after failing to pay taxes on rent he earned from a property in the Dominican Republic and misusing his office to secure fundraising.
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