In his 2007 autobiography, Mr. Rangel said he received his district as a birthday present in 1970 from Governor Nelson Rockefeller, with whom he enjoyed a “special relationship” as a member of the State Assembly.
Mr. Rangel held on to his tailormade seat in Harlem, which he calls “the capital of black America,” for the next four decades.
Mr. Rangel is very well-liked in his home turf. Bill Thompson, who nearly defeated Michael Bloomberg in the 2009 mayoral election, remembers the experience of campaigning in Harlem alongside Mr. Rangel as “special.”
“People come from one side of the street or the other just to say, ‘Hello.’ And that’s Charlie,” Mr. Thompson said. “People just respond to Charlie.”
As Mr. Rangel put it in his memoir, “The bottom line is that I’m the only New York congressman whose district has always remained entirely on the island of Manhattan. God is good.”
Over the past twenty years, the Hispanic population in the district has increased by nine percent and the African American population dropped by ten. To deal with the demographic shift, and ensure his reelection, Mr. Rangel’s allies tried to get a favorable district drawn for him again this year. But the once mighty political machine built by the congressman lacked the muscle to carve a perfect perch for their leader amid growing calls for redistricting reform and the evolution of their base in Harlem.
As a result, for the first time in his career, Mr. Rangel is representing areas of the Bronx and new territories in Upper Manhattan, along with his Harlem haven.
Mr. Rangel points out the Latino majority in the district is nothing new and he believes he has earned the trust of the diverse denizens.
“I work hard at my job, and so, this isn’t just longevity,” he said.