Win or lose, it’s Congressman Charlie Rangel’s last competitive election – and after enthusiastically casting a vote for himself for perhaps the last time, he said wouldn’t be in it if he weren’t there to win.
“Well, I wouldn’t have gone — my wife wouldn’t have allowed me to have gone through this if it wasn’t important,” Mr. Rangel told the Observer with his wife, Alma, standing by his side. “But more important than me is people recognize the right to vote.”
It was a pivot Mr. Rangel made multiple times outside his polling place as he spoke to the press – taking a question about his chances or the race and then stepping back to offer a reflection on the big picture.
“Just as many times as I said, ‘Vote for me because I’m the best candidate,’ I hope that I’ve also said with equal vigor, ‘Make certain that if you can’t vote for me, you take a look at all of the candidates and vote, vote, vote, vote,” Mr. Rangel continued.
Mr. Rangel and his wife cast their votes, with supporter Public Advocate Tish James along for the ride, at PS 175 in Harlem. He entered the polling place to a smattering of applause; a school employee rushed by with some children and told the congressman they were the future.
After voting, surrounded by press, Mr. Rangel turned to offer a big grin and a thumbs up. He pivoted around in a full circle so that every reporter and photographer could get their shots, and eventually added a second thumbs up just for good measure.
“I told my wife of over 50 years, ‘That will be the last time I will be voting for myself,’” Mr. Rangel reflected on what makes this race different.
Of course, Mr. Rangel would have a chance to vote for himself again if he wins the primary, but the November election is largely a formality in the Democratic district.
Ms. Rangel said her husband had promised to take her to Paris when the campaign was over – and Mr. Rangel said — not that it was anybody’s business, he hastened to add — he’d learned in recent years he could have devoted some of the passion he felt for public service for his family, which he’d look to do after one more stint in Congress.
He called the long campaign between him and State Senator Adriano Espiallat a “civil campaign,” despite debate run-ins, controversy over some of his remarks about his opponent’s Dominican heritage, and Monday afternoon’s encounter that led to a shouting match in Spanish between Mr. Rangel’s supporters and Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who backs Mr. Espaillat.
“Well, I haven’t felt any animosity toward anybody in this campaign, nor anyone who supported any of my opponents,” Mr. Rangel said. “I think this has been a civil campaign. Issues have been raised. And I haven’t had a bad day since.”
Today, Mr. Rangel didn’t say much about Mr. Espaillat, and certainly not about his ethnic background, except to offer some broad brush strokes about the district’s diversity.
“This district has never decided campaigns on where a person was born, the language he speaks, what religion he belongs to, whether they’re white or black. We have felt proud of their position and we think at the end of the day we upheld that position,” Mr. Rangel said.
Asked why he hadn’t spoken more about his own Puerto Rican heritage in an effort to match Mr. Espaillat’s discussion of his Dominican background, Mr. Rangel demurred.
“I have repeatedly not even talked about Espiallat, and this would be the wrong time for me to start now,” Mr. Rangel said.
But for at least some voters who turned out to support Mr. Rangel, the district’s demographics mattered. Shirley B. Scott, 72, stood over Mr. Rangel’s shoulder holding a tiny dog, Cocoa Puff. She said the support for Mr. Espiallat was among the new residents in the neighborhood — and that Mr. Rangel’s competition hadn’t proved themselves to the long-time residents.
“The change is for the new people,” Ms. Scott said. “What I need for them to do is do some work.”