Espaillat Brings Beefed-Up Campaign Machine to Second Rangel Fight

State Senator Adriano Espaillat.

State Senator Adriano Espaillat.

For State Senator Adriano Espaillat’s 2012 congressional bid, the El Barrio vote proved fatal.

The heavily Latino neighborhood was supposed to give Mr. Espaillat the boost he needed to depose longtime Congressman Charlie Rangel. Instead, Mr. Rangel crushed Mr. Espaillat in the East Harlem neighborhood by more than 2,500 votes, ultimately earning another term in Congress by a slim, 1,000-vote margin.

But Mr. Espaillat now has the neighborhood’s most powerful politician, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, in his corner; in 2012, Ms. Mark-Viverito backed Mr. Rangel.

Fueled by a near-upset, Mr. Espaillat’s supporters argue the state senator is a far more formidable candidate this time around, boasting an enhanced campaign apparatus, a more polished presentation and a new, glitzy line-up of endorsements that could send the Dominican-American to Capitol Hill.

Take Mr. Espaillat’s launch event. For weeks, the uptown pol and his surrogates had been stoking speculation about his run. He finally made it official late last month at a tightly-choreographed kick-off event at the gilded United Palace Theater in Washington Heights, where he was joined by a chorus of vocal backers waving campaign signs.

In television interviews since his launch, Mr. Espaillat has appeared more polished than two years ago, succinctly outlining his policy priorities and emphasizing the issues that appeal to the neighborhoods that encompass the district, which stretches from Harlem through Washington Heights, Inwood and into the Bronx.

On the campaign operations side, Mr. Espaillat’s team is also more robust. He has hired Bedford Grove, a national fund-raising firm, to manage his money operations, and has brought in Jesse Campoamor, a former 1199 SEIU and campaign operative for Mayor Bill de Blasio, as his campaign manager. LaMon Bland, a top fielder director at the Rev. Al Sharpton-led National Action Network, is also on board as a senior adviser, along with consultants at the MirRam Group, who ran his 2012 bid.

Mr. Espaillat will have a pack of politicians in his corner alongside Ms. Mark-Viverito. Two staunch Espaillat allies–newly-elected Councilman Mark Levine and Assemblywoman Gabriela Rosa–have both replaced Rangel-supporting pols since the last race.

And others are said to be switching sides. Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. has reportedly jumped on the Espaillat bandwagon after backing Mr. Rangel in 2012, adding yet another prominent Latino backer to Mr. Espaillat’s coalition. (Mr. Espaillat won the Bronx portion of the cross-borough district in 2012, but Espaillat backers believe his vote total in the Bronx could be much higher now because more voters are aware of the district lines, which were new two years ago.)

Congressman Charlie Rangel. (Photo: Getty)

Congressman Charlie Rangel. (Photo: Getty)

Powerful labor forces who backed Mr. Rangel last time around may also be more inclined to stay neutral this year after seeing lefty allies like Ms. Mark-Viverito defect from the incumbent. The health care workers’ union 1199 SEIU has already hailed the “three really good candidates” in the race: Mr. Rangel, Mr. Espaillat, and another challenger, Pastor Mike Walrond–a black candidate whom many believe could compete with Mr. Rangel for votes. Mr. Sharpton, a power broker in the African-American community, has been cool to Mr. Rangel’s candidacy, and is a longtime associate of Mr. Walrond, who also works at NAN.

“When Senator Adriano Espaillat ran in 2012 the campaign had a deep held believe that the voters of the district were ready to unite around a strong new voice – two years later the feeling is so palpable that there is no doubt Adriano Espaillat will be the new congressman for the district,” Mr. Campoamor said in a statement.

But Rangel allies downplay Mr. Espaillat’s momentum, pointing to signs that the congressman maintains a broad base of support.

Mr. Rangel’s congressional colleagues will be supporting Mr. Rangel at a fund-raiser later this week headlined by Queens Democratic Party Chair Joe Crowley, two other federal lawmakers–Grace Meng and Gregory Meeks–and former Gov. David Paterson, an ex-state senator from Harlem.

The veteran congressman’s campaign team is arguably more sophisticated this year as well–with Metropolitan Public Strategies serving as consultants and Mercury Public Affairs hired to poll the race–and his health is far better now, giving him the energy to campaign more aggressively.

A new campaign manager, Rasheida Smith, has also been brought in to steer Mr. Rangel’s bid. The founder of her own consulting firm, her clients include New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, New Jersey Congressman Donald Payne Jr. and Queens Councilman Daneek Miller.

“By hiring top talent early on, Congressman Rangel has put together a battle-tested team and is taking nothing for granted this time around,” said a source close to Mr. Rangel. “Learning the lessons from the past, the Congressman is running an aggressive campaign, based on real targeting and modeling, that will lead his broad, diverse coalition to victory in June.”