HOST INTRO: This week, State Senator Adriano Espaillat announced he’s running for a U.S. Congressional seat in northern Manhattan and the Bronx.
If elected, Espaillat—a Democrat–would become the first Dominican-American in the House of Representatives.
His biggest obstacle is incumbent Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel, who’s had the seat for more than four decades.
Now Rangels’ district been redrawn to include heavily Latino neighborhoods—setting up a new contest between two of the city’s largest constituencies: Latinos and African Americans.
Nat Herz has this report.
SOUND: Fade in track meet ambi.
NAR: This past Sunday afternoon, State Senator Adriano Espaillat was getting a warm welcome at a track meet he helped organize in Washington Heights.
The stocky, energetic 57-year-old dished out handshakes, gave a quick speech, and posed for a photo-op with a giant tiger mascot. And for one last day, he dodged questions about his political future.
IC: “No, no no…
OC: “…Tomorrow, I’ll answer you that.”
NAR: Espaillat’s run for Congress was one of the worst-kept secrets in New York City. He announced it the very next morning.
Voters have sent Espaillat to Albany for the last 15 years—first as an assemblyman, and then as a state senator. He’s championed a bill on rent regulation, chaired a committee on small business, and pulled in money to his district for legal assistance.
All that has earned him the loyalty of voters like Louis Ramos, a Dominican-American from Washington Heights who was at the track watching his daughter. Ramos says he knows Espaillat personally.
IC: “He helped me out pretty good…”
OC: “…so he got my vote.”
NAR: Espaillat appears to be the strongest of four new challengers for the Congressional seat in New York’s 13th district. Other contenders include Clyde Williams, the former Democratic National Committee political director, and longtime activist and politician Joyce Johnson.
But there’s one gigantic obstacle for all of them. That’s Rangel, who’s been in office since 1971—three years before Espaillat graduated from Bishop Dubois High School…in Harlem.
Rangel is known as ‘the Lion of Harlem.’ And despite a series of ethics problems over the last few years, he’s still popular.
IC: “He was even chairman…”
OC: “…of the Ways and Means Committee!”
NAR: That’s Mamadou Diallo, a taxi driver who says he has voted for Rangel before, and will again. He thinks Rangel deserves credit for consistently delivering to the area in the 23 years Diallo has lived there—and he has specific examples.
IC: “There were no banks in Harlem…”
OC: “…Particularly during the Clinton years, a lot happened around here.”
SOUND: Fade out track meet ambi.
NAR: For Espaillat to get elected, he’ll have to win over longtime Rangel constituents like Diallo.
In an e-mailed statement, a Rangel spokesman said that the Congressman “firmly believes, as he did 21 times before, that he is the best candidate to make a difference in the community.”
The re-drawn district is now more than half Latino—up some 10 percent from the last election.
Technically, that should make things easier for Espaillat. But he’s still on Rangel’s turf.
During his 40 years in office, the incumbent has developed strong ties with a number of Latino leaders. And it doesn’t hurt Rangel that his father is Puerto Rican.
IC: “Who knows?! You call him Charlie Rangel…”
OC: “…he may call himself Carlos Rang-GELL.”
Angelo Falcon is president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, which is based in New York.
He says that Latinos won’t just vote as one big group.
The new district has a significant Puerto Rican population, and a number of local leaders have already thrown Rangel their endorsements.
In theory, Espaillat should get strong support from Dominicans. But Falcon says that group lacks clout when it heads to the polls.
IC: “There are age, citizenship issues…
OC: “…So it’s not a slam dunk, by any means.”
NAR: Espaillat and the other challengers will square off in the Democratic primary on June 26.
Nat Herz, Columbia Radio News.