Charles Rangel, who has represented New York City’s Harlem neighborhood in Congress for more than 41 years and once served as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, survived a Democratic primary challenge in his redrawn district.
Rangel led state Senator Adriano Espaillat by 50.9 percent to 31.9 percent with 62 percent of the unofficial vote count reported by Associated Press. Democrats make up about 97 percent of the district, so winning the primary almost ensures that Rangel, 82, the co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, will return to Washington in 2013 for a another two-year term.
It was Rangel’s first campaign since the House censured him in December 2010 for 11 ethics violations, including failure to disclose and pay taxes on rental income from a house he owned in the Dominican Republic. Rangel prevailed even after a federal judge this year redrew the district to include more Latinos and fewer blacks.
“Ethics charges and ethnic change didn’t matter,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic consultant not involved in the race. “The voters kept Charlie Rangel despite everything, and that means Harlem still rules uptown politics.”
Espaillat, 57, was seeking to become the first Dominican member of U.S. Congress. He campaigned saying the censure had reduced Rangel’s effectiveness and made him a “poster child for dysfunction in Washington.”
Helped by Rockefeller
New York traditionally holds primaries in September. This year, a federal judge moved the congressional primary to June to comply with a U.S. law requiring military personnel serving overseas to get ballots at least 45 days before the November general election.
Rangel entered Congress in 1970 with support from former Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Working his way up the seniority system -- he has served longer than all but three current House members -- Rangel in 2007 became chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which helps write U.S. tax and trade policy. He gave up the chairmanship in 2010 while under scrutiny by the House Ethics Committee.
Espaillat, an assemblyman for 14 years before winning election to the state Senate in 2010, has been almost as effective as Rangel in gathering votes, winning 80 percent or more in general elections.
After the state Legislature failed to agree on congressional boundaries, Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann, using 2010 census data, created a new 13th District. It took away much of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where Rangel had won votes for decades, and extended the northern border into Latino areas of the Bronx, where Rangel had never campaigned.
Rangel also faced challenges from three other candidates, all black, who together received about 16 percent of the vote, according to AP.
“The other three candidates took from the anti-Rangel vote and hurt Espaillat,” Sheinkopf said.
Rangel received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star in the Korean War after leading 40 comrades to safety from behind enemy lines. Returning to the U.S., he completed high school and worked his way through college and law school.
He entered politics as one of the “Gang of Four” with former Mayor David Dinkins, former Secretary of State Basil Paterson and Harlem-based broadcasting executive Percy Sutton, who organized Harlem’s voters into a constituency with statewide influence. He won election to the state Assembly in 1966.
He got to Congress by defeating Adam Clayton Powell Jr., New York’s first black congressman, who had served 26 years and become enmeshed in scandal. Once there, he made a name for himself as a member of the Judiciary Committee, grilling witnesses during the Watergate hearings and subsequent impeachment proceedings that forced President Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation.
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