State Senator Adriano Espaillat kicked off his rematch campaign against Congressman Charlie Rangel this afternoon, vowing to unify the district as he attempts to defeat the state’s longest-serving congressman once again.
Standing in front of dozens of supporters at the gilded United Palace Theater in Washington Heights, Mr. Espaillat promised “a big tent approach to politics. As big as this room, if not bigger.”
“We need a champion in Washington that will be able to bring this whole district together,” he said.
Mr. Espaillat came just over a 1,000 votes of beating Mr. Rangel two years ago in a vicious primary battle that oftentimes seemed to devolve into a war between the black and Hispanic alliances in the quickly-changing 13th Congressional District, which spans from Harlem though Washington Heights to the Bronx.
Mr. Espaillat seemed to strike a less divisive tone this time, insisting his key issues–affordable housing, immigration reform and the rising costs of living–were those that affected residents across the district, regardless of their race, ethnicity or neighborhood.
“Families are struggling from East Harlem, to Harlem, to Hamilton Heights, to Washington Heights, Inwood, Marble Hill and the Bronx,” said Mr. Espaillat after laying out his platform. “They’re not Dominican issues, they’re not Puerto Rican issues, they’re not black or white or Asian issues. They impact the entire district. And very often we feel that we are fighting these issues alone … We need one voice in Washington … And that’s what’s lacking in this district. And that’s why I’m running for Congress.”
“When your rent goes it up, it doesn’t matter whether you’re Latino or black or white,” he later added. “If you are rushed to the emergency room, the doctor doesn’t ask you, ‘Are you Hispanic? Are you white? Are you Jewish?’ These are common issues that impacting the district across the board.”
Speaking on Dominican Independence Day, the Dominican-born Espaillat also took several more pointed shots at Mr. Rangel, at one point quipping that the district needed a champion in Washington to “stand next to” President Barack Obama–“not to take cheap shots at the president on national TV.”
Asked whether it was time for Mr. Rangel to retire, Mr. Espaillat was direct: “I think its time for change.”
Mr. Espaillat also insisted that things had changed since 2012, when Mr. Espaillat came “within a hair” of Mr. Rangel, pointing to the rowdy supporters behind him, the ascendance of Mayor Bill de Blasio and the changing of the guard at City Hall, which he said indicated a pressing desire for change. Mr. Espaillat also vowed to work harder, saying he would emerge on the other side of the race 20 pounds lighter and having worn through three pairs of shoes.
“It’s been two years and we’re still frustrated with some of the issues that impact our community. Congress shutting down, the sequestration, it’s a mess,” he said. “We’re very optimistic that we will win this race.”
Mr. Rangel’s campaign responded with a statement stressing the congressman’s long record of “raising hell” on behalf of the neighborhood’s families.
“The reason Congressman Rangel is running for reelection is because he is the best person to keep fighting for the people of the 13th Congressional District,” the campaign said. “He’s not done pushing for living wages and unemployment insurance, working to pass real immigration reform, fighting for more affordable housing and standing up for veterans.”
“When it comes to protecting the working families of upper Manhattan and the Bronx,” it continued, “Congressman Rangel is out there raising hell. He has the proven record and is the clear choice. Working with President Obama and Mayor de Blasio, there is nobody who can do more for the families of the 13th district to deliver the progressive results we need.”
At one point during Mr. Espaillat’s festivities, one reporter mentioned he’d just gotten off the phone with Mr. Rangel.
“Give him my best,” a confident Mr. Espaillat said with a smile.