Tuesday’s New York primary could finally bring speculation concerning the race in Harlem’s 13th Congressional district to an end. Veteran congressman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) has certain advantages that could help him keep his seat. Meanwhile, State Senator Adriano Espaillat has been cast as Rangel’s most likely successor. The Dominican-American challenger has seen tremendous support for his campaign in Harlem’s recently re-drawn Congressional district.
Although some have given Espaillat the edge in the heavily watched race, and speculation that Rangel’s seat is in danger has been widespread since the 2010 Census report, which revealed the burgeoning Latino population in Harlem, many have overlooked what advantages this new district holds for the incumbent.
Rangel actually picked up 24,500 African-American votes after his district was re-drawn. Yes, this newly designed district does have a Hispanic majority. That said, these neighborhoods are home to a base that has known Rangel as their Congressman for decades. The older and politically astute constituency is well aware of Rangel’s powerful ties in Congress. If Espiallat does win, as a freshman legislator, his committee assignments may not bring Harlem’s Dominican community what it may be hoping for by electing the first Dominican-American-born member of congress.
Similarly, many speculated during Rangel’s last campaign in 2010 that his censure could bring his political career to an end. Yet, Rangel actually over-performed in precincts with the heaviest turnout in his district. Although Espiallat may have strong ethnic ties to residents, it may take more than that to depose the third most senior member in Congress.
The Latino community has continued to suffer politically with low voter turnout and lower levels of citizenship relative to the general population. They have not yet seen their expanding population translate into political power at the federal level. Low Hispanic voter turnout has made it difficult for candidates to win primaries in border states like Arizona and California, which have had consistent growth in the Hispanic population for decades. According to the National Journal, “low Hispanic turnout contributed to Democrats’ failure to advance a candidate to the general election in the all-party primary in California’s 31st District, which is just under half Hispanic.”
Also, New Yorkers have become accustomed to September primaries. A primary this early in the summer could induce some voters to choose the most well-known candidate, giving Rangel an edge.
If Latinos aren’t able to demonstrate that their growing population is a force potent enough to command change on the federal level, by taking away Rangel’s seat, they may have a hard time proving — in the short term at least — that their bark is as loud as their bite.
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