Several weeks ago, I interviewed State Sen. Adriano Espaillat for a story I was writing about redistricting and its impact on Harlem and Northern Manhattan politics. For weeks, Espaillat had been advocating for the creation of a Latino-majority district in that area, partly to reflect the growth in the city’s Hispanic population, and partly so he himself could run for the seat.
But Espaillat repeatedly denied having any interest in running in a primary against Rep. Charlie Rangel, who currently occupies the Northern Manhattan congressional seat.
Here’s our exchange:
Me: You’ve said you don’t want to run in a primary against Congressman Rangel.
Espaillat: That’s correct.
Me (jokingly): You’d probably lose anyway, right?
Espaillat: He’s a well liked guy. And he’s a legend. It’s tough to run against a legend.
Several weeks later, Espaillat opened a congressional exploratory committee. And today, a source close to Espaillat confirmed that the senator has begun circling petitions to collect signatures for a run for Congress.
He testified in federal court last week in support of a Congressional district that solidifies an African American voting block as well as the creation of a new Latino seat. And after all that advocacy for a Latino-majority district, Espaillat had little choice but to put his money where his mouth is.
The three-judge panel charged with drawing the state’s congressional lines shifted the lines of Rangel’s district to include more neighborhoods favorable to Espaillat in the South Bronx.
Rangel has said he intends to run for re-election, and his spokesman Bob Liff reaffirmed that today when asked about Espaillat circling petitions.
“No reaction other than that Rangel is running,” Liff emailed.
But conventional wisdom in Harlem and beyond is that Rangel will either bow out after petitioning and give his signatures to a hand-picked successor (most likely Manhattan Democratic Party chairman Assemblyman Keith Wright) or resign after winning re-election, allowing Wright to nominate himself as his replacement.
Under the first scenario, it’s Espaillat vs. Wright. Under the second, it’s Espaillat vs. Rangel. Either one promises to be far more thrilling than Rangel’s 2010 re-election race, when the congressman’s censure for ethics violations failed to prevent his landslide victory over several primary opponents.
Also, Espaillat doesn’t lose anything by running this year. He won’t have to give up his Senate seat, and even if he loses, he lays the foundation for another run two years from now.
Despite his age and dwindling clout, Rangel is still difficult to beat. A legendary name, lots of cash and a compressed timeline for petition gathering before the June 26 primary election. But in a redrawn district that’s 36 percent black and over 55 percent Hispanic, Espaillat can make a strong case for his candidacy.
“Government cannot ignore the population when it knocks on its door,” Espaillat said last month when we spoke. “Because then the population has to kick down the door!”
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