Charlie Rangel wins primary, will seek 22nd term; controversial councilman defeated

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For New York Congressman Charlie Rangel, the 22nd time was the charm.

Rangel, who in recent years has faced ethics charges and one of the toughest races of his long political career, survived the challenge Tuesday, clearing the path to a 22nd term representing New York’s 13th Congressional District.

Rangel, 82, was first elected to Congress from Harlem in 1970, having challenged legendary Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who ironically had been weakened by ethics scandals. Rangel defeated Powell by just 150 votes.

The Democrat, whose district has expanded to include Harlem and parts of the Bronx, once chaired the powerful House Ways and Means committee, before a scandal forced him out of the chairmanship. Rangel was censured in 2010 by the House. Among the 11 ethics violations he was charged with failure to pay taxes on a house he owns in the Dominican Republic.

Rangel weathered that storm, but faced another daunting challenge: a district redrawn by the 2010 Census to have more Hispanic than black residents. Rangel, whose father was Puerto Rican, has never emphasized his Latino heritage, even though many believed it could help him politically in a district whose demographics are shifting. He has instead remained a lion of the Congressional Black Caucus, and an icon among black lawmakers. He emphasized his seniority and experience during his re-election campaign.

With 84 percent of precincts reporting at just after midnight, Rangel was ahead of his strongest challenger, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, a 57 year-old Dominican-American, by 45.2 percent to 39.8 percent, with three other challengers, former Democratic National Committee political director Clyde Williams, Joyce Johnson — who has run against Rangel before — and community activist Craig Schley, garnering 10.3 percent, 3.2 percent and 1.5 percent of the vote, respectively.

From the New York Daily News:

“When some of the most severe charges have been made against me in the past, it was my community that came out,” Rangel said.

When asked if he ever had any doubts, he gave a big grin and shook his head.

“I’m just glad my community has the faith and confidence in me,” he said.

But Rangel wasn’t all modesty: “I really never understood the qualifications of my opponents.”

In a statement, Espaillat admitted defeat:

“After the campaign of our lives, having knocked on thousands of doors and talked to men and women of the 13th Congressional district who inspire me to serve the public, it is clear that we will not win this campaign,” he said.

And from the New York Times, signs of Rangel’s continued strength among his core black constituents:

At Sylvia’s, a sign described the congressman as “The Lion of Lenox Avenue.” Assemblyman Keith L. T. Wright, a co-chairman of the state Democratic Party, predicted that Mr. Rangel would serve indefinitely in Congress, saying, “Charlie Rangel might be the Strom Thurmond of Harlem.”

“No one has been through the fire more so than our congressperson,” Mr. Wright said, “and we in the district have sent him back because we have faith in him, and that he has our interests in mind, and quite frankly he’s one of us.”

Mr. Rangel took the stage looking emotional, and sounded a note of damaged pride and fierce determination. He criticized the city’s daily newspapers, each of which endorsed one of his opponents, and said, “If they didn’t think after 42 years that I was the best qualified, I promise them that in the next two years they’ll have no question about the fact that we elected the best.”

Rangel’s victory wasn’t the only news out of New York Tuesday. Brooklyn Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries defeated controversial City Councilman Charles Barron in a close race. Barron had drawn the outrage of Republicans and Democrats alike for calling the late Libyan Dictator Muommar Qaddafi as his “hero,” for calling Thomas Jefferson a “pedophile,” and comparing the Gaza strip, which is occupied by Israel, as a “concentration camp.” Democrats likely breathed a sigh of relief at Barron’s defeat.

Follow Joy Reid on Twitter at @thereidreport.