Harlem politics are ripe for high drama this fall as Congressman Charlie Rangel faces a slew of primary challengers. Rangel, an institution in Harlem, is still recovering from his congressional censure, dealing with Harlem’s changing demographics, and facing the public’s desire for a new face representing New York’s 15th district.
Joyce Johnson, a business executive and former district leader, Clyde Williams, a former aide to Bill Clinton, and Vince Morgan, a former Rangel aide and local banker, are a few names that are making waves of late, raising funds and organizing support to challenge Congressman Rangel.
Clyde Williams reportedly has nearly $125,000 cash on hand to launch his own campaign.
When Johnson recently sent out a Facebook message inviting supporters to a March 8 campaign event she says attendees received “intimidating” responses in all capital letters from Rangel’s chief of staff, asking: “ARE YOU GUYS SUPPORTING THIS PERSON OVER MY BOSS? PLEASE CONFIRM!”
Johnson was angry about the alleged intimidation, but says she was undeterred.
This isn’t the first time she’s tried to unseat Rangel. Johnson challenged Rangel once before in 2010, and even after Rangel’s censure by the House over ethics violations, he won easily.
This year could be different.
Rangel has been representing Harlem since 1971, and many feel it might be time for a changing of the guard, though beating Rangel will prove difficult for any opponent.
Hank Sheinkopf, an influential New York democratic consultant, told theGrio, “Anyone wanting to launch a serious challenge to Congressman Rangel needs 750 thousand dollars in the bank. Rangel has been in that seat for 40 years. It’s just very hard to beat an incumbent. It’s doubly hard to beat an African-American incumbent who is a folk hero. [In order to really challenge Congressman Rangel you need to start] two years out and start [by] putting together small groups of committees in the district [with Harlem residents] between the ages of 35-50 years old. Otherwise it’s going to be very difficult to beat Rangel. [Older people] 55-plus are going to come out and vote for Charlie Rangel.”
Johnson knows she is in for a fight. The “Harlem Clubhouse” is the nickname for the group of mostly men who will prove influential in this race. Those insiders who support Rangel all seem to have individual ambitions to move up the electoral ladder.
In order to beat Rangel, Johnson told The Huffington Post she plans to “make the pie bigger” — referring to the slice of eligible voters in the district who are not yet registered to vote. It’s intimidating but “you have to be the strongest person in the world to come into this political arena,” Johnson continued.
According to the latest census figures, there is significant shift under way in the demographics uptown. Nearly 30,000 fewer voters in Harlem are African-American. As the number of white and Hispanic residents in Harlem has increased, this could have an impact on Rangel’s chances, since he has historically relied heavily on the support of black voters.
Rangel’s opponents are gambling that this year might just be the right time to retire him from the House. Johnson says she is ready to fight for the congressional seat, and hopeful that her experience in past races will prove valuable this year, finally pushing her over the top.