State Senator Adriano Espaillat officially announced his intention to run for the House of Representatives in Upper Manhattan’s 13th District at a fundraiser for the Barack Obama Democratic Club yesterday ending months of speculation over whether he would challenge veteran Congressman Charlie Rangel. Sources who attended the event said Mr. Espaillat, who would become the first Congressman of Dominican descent if his bid is successful, quoted from J.F.K.’s inaugural address and said “the torch must be passed down to a new generation of Americans.”
Mr. Espaillat has been hinting at a run for Congress since at least January, but he initially signaled he was only interested in running if a predominantly Latino district was created uptown and did not desire a race against Mr. Rangel. Earlier this month, after the redistricting process left Mr. Espaillat with no other option than to run against the veteran congressman, he formed a campaign committee and began circulating petitions.
Mr. Rangel, 81, is a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus who has spent more than four decades in the House of Representatives, but his censure for ethics violations in 2010 and the growing Latino majority in his district have led to speculation he might not run for re-election this time around. The congressman’s allies in the State Assembly pushed a plan to protect him from a potential Latino challenger by taking a portion of his longtime base in Upper Manhattan and adding sections of The Bronx and Westchester to create a predominantly African-American district. That plan was not adopted when the final congressional map was approved by a three-judge panel. In addition to these political problems, Mr. Rangel has also been dealing with health woes that have led to two hospitalizations and his longest absence from the House floor in at least ten years. Despite these challenges, Mr. Rangel has remained adamant about his desire to run for re-election remain in his seat.
With the various issues swirling around Mr. Rangel, rumors have abounded he is running in order to pass his seat to his longtime ally, Assembyman Keith Wright, and would step down soon afterward if he is victorious in the race. Mr. Rangel vigorously denied these rumors in a statement last week. According to a source who attended the Barack Obama Democratic Club fundraiser yesterday, Mr. Wright spoke before Mr. Espaillat’s announcement and said he hoped the campaign would not lead to a “civil war” between African-Americans and Latinos. Another source said Mr. Rangel’s deputy chief of staff Geoffrey Eaton and former Democratic National Committee head Clyde Williams, who is running for the seat as well, were also in attendance. The Barack Obama Democrats are holding a meeting to decide who they will endorse on Wednesday.
Mr. Espaillat is considered a rising star in the State Democratic Party and could pose a formidable challenge to Mr. Rangel. The 13th District is over 50 percent Latino and heavily Dominican. Mr. Espaillat’s status as the potential first Dominican congressman should give him great appeal in the district. In addition to Mr. Espaillat, Mr. Rangel and Mr. Williams, former executive and Democratic district leader Joyce Johnson is in the race and Mr. Rangel’s ex-staffer Vince Morgan has been eyeing the seat. Like Mr. Rangel, Mr, Williams, Ms. Johnson and Mr. Morgan are African-American and could chip away at some of Mr. Rangel’s support with his black base.