32BJ Will Stay Neutral in Race for Charlie Rangel’s Seat

Congressman Charlie Rangel. (Photo: Getty Images)

Congressman Charlie Rangel. (Photo: Getty Images)

The last of the major city unions to endorse in the race for Congressman Charlie Rangel’s seat will not be backing a contender after all.

32BJ SEIU, the influential building workers union, has decided to not boost a candidate in the four-way Democratic primary after their membership was too divided to make an endorsement, a source close to the union said.

“Rep. Charles Rangel, State Senator Adriano Espaillat and Reverend Michael Walrond have all fought for issues that are important to members of 32BJ and working families,” said Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ, in a statement to the Observer. “We believe that any one of them would be a strong champion in Congress for residents of Harlem, upper Manhattan and the Bronx.”

The union is urging their membership to vote for any of the three major contenders in the contest for the uptown and Bronx-based seat. The decision comes after three other major unions–1199 SEIU, the United Federation of Teachers and the Hotel Trades Council–chose to back Mr. Rangel or Mr. Espaillat.

32BJ is still planning a get-out-the-vote and leafleting effort to boost turnout for the June 24 primary, but could not unite around a candidate after members pushed for Mr. Rangel, Mr. Espaillat and even Pastor Mike Walrond, a long-shot candidate, sources say. Also in the race is Bronx activist Yolanda Garcia, a political unknown.

While the union’s endorsement can be viewed as a loss for Mr. Espaillat–a top Rangel rival trying to unseat the 40-year congressman for the second time–after he garnered the backing of UFT and HTC, 32BJ’s neutrality also represents another major force that will not be supporting the Harlem incumbent. Two years ago, Mr. Rangel ran with the lion’s share of labor support.

Mr. Espaillat is running with the support of many local power brokers, including Comptroller Scott Stringer and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, while Mr. Rangel is counting on the backing of the Washington establishment.

“People feel very strongly about each candidate. It would be difficult to be pick one. Including Walrond, any of three and not just the two leading ones are really good choices,” a source close to 32BJ said.