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Longtime Thorn in Retiring Rangel’s Side Wins New York’s 13th District

Two-time primary challenger Adriano Espaillat wins

New York state lawmaker Adriano Espaillat shakes hands with the crowd before speaking at the 116th Street Festival, billed as the largest Latin festival in the northeast, in East Harlem. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
New York state lawmaker Adriano Espaillat shakes hands with the crowd before speaking at the 116th Street Festival, billed as the largest Latin festival in the northeast, in East Harlem. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic state Sen. Adriano Espaillat’s win in New York’s 13th District on Tuesday night marks the first time since the 1960s that someone not named Charles B. Rangel was elected to fill that seat.

Espaillat will defeat Republican Tony Evans, The Associated Press projects. With 60 percent of precincts reporting, Espaillat led Evans 89 percent to 6 percent. With his victory, Espaillat becomes the first Dominican-American elected to Congress.

[Election Results 2016]

Democratic incumbent Rangel is retiring after 23 terms as the second longest-serving House member and he remains the only congressman several generations of Harlem residents has ever known.

New York’s 13th District is geographically the smallest in the nation, representing a narrow strip of Upper Manhattan and a corner of the Bronx. It includes the neighborhoods of East Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood.

Coming into Election Day, the race was rated Safe Democrat by The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call. 

First elected in 1970, Rangel had no trouble holding his seat in previous general elections, though he has faced competitive primaries in recent years, including being challenged twice by Espaillat, in 2012 and 2014. 

Redistricting heading into the 2012 election changed the group of voters judging him. Rangel has long represented Harlem, but the new lines also included a chunk of the Bronx that he had never represented. The racial makeup of his constituents shifted from nearly three-quarters black when he was first elected to a Hispanic majority.

He narrowly defeated Espaillat in 2012 in a race that was decided by fewer than 1,100 votes; and then again in 2014 by just over 2,300 votes. 

During his primary challenge to Rangel in 2014, Espaillat labeled the congressman a “liability” for Democrats.

“Right now, [Rangel] cannot get us to the majority,” Espaillat told MSNBC. “I doubt very seriously that any marginal Democrat in a tough race would take his support.”

The bad blood spilled over into the 2016 race, with Rangel endorsing one of Espaillat’s primary foes — and blasting him while doing so for not resigning from his state Senate seat to fully commit to the congressional race.

“Are you in or are you out? It’s such a basic, nonpolitical question,” Rangel said in May. “Are you running for the Congress or are you holding on to your seat and raising money for an unsuccessful run?”

Espaillat won the Democratic primary in June by 849 votes. 

[Espaillat Declares Victory in Charlie Rangel’s New York Seat]

The longtime state lawmaker established himself in his district first as an advocate of community causes and subsequently as a member of the New York state Assembly and Senate.

Espaillat is the top Democrat on the Senate Housing, Construction and Community Development Committee. That and his record advocating for tenants’ rights, investment in neighborhoods and affordable housing suggests what his agenda might be when he arrives in Congress. He has the reputation of being a vocal advocate causes ranging from protecting tenants’ rights to investing in affordable housing. He also wants to focus on preventing gun violence.

The retiring Rangel is the longest-serving member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, the House’s oldest committee, and served as its chairman from 2007 to 2010. While Rangel’s influence has declined since he was censured by the full House in December 2010 for ethics violations, he has used his perch as the ranking member of the panel’s Trade Subcommittee to push for more open markets and an extension of a 2000 law that helps African countries by lowering U.S. tariffs to their exports.

Rangel stepped aside as Ways and Means chairman in the 111th Congress (2009-10) as the House ethics committee pursued 13 charges against him on a variety of matters, including using a rent-stabilized Harlem apartment for a campaign office, under-reporting rental income on a vacation property in the Dominican Republic, failing to disclose personal assets and using congressional letterhead as part of a fundraising campaign.

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