Espaillat Will Challenge Rangel, But Will Dominicans Vote for One of Their Own?

State Senator Adriano Espaillat will challenge Congressman Charles Rangel in the upcoming primary. (Photo from El Diario la Prensa)

This past Sunday, State Senator Adriano Espaillat announced that he intends to run for the newly-formed 13th Congressional District seat in Upper Manhattan, pitting him against longtime Congressman Charles Rangel in the Democratic primary. When he was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1996, Espaillat became the first Dominican-American elected to a state legislature, according to DNAinfo.

But according to the article translated below from El Diario La Prensa by Jose Acosta — written before Espaillat made his official announcement — Espaillat should not take blanket Dominican support for granted. Although many Dominicans vote for their compatriots, the article asserts, Dominicans whose families have been in the United States longer have less of a tendency to vote for a Dominican politician because of ethnic ties.

While some analysts say that Dominicans tend to vote for candidates of their same ethnic origin, second and third generation Dominicans look at the political trajectory of the candidate before giving them their vote.

In a hard-fought battle like the one expected in the primaries for the Congressional representative for the 13th District in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, “co-ethnicity” promises to be a determining factor for the aspiring state senator, Adriano Espaillat, who needs the majority of Dominicans to join him to topple the legendary African American congressman, Charles Rangel, and become the first Dominican in the House of Representatives. Espaillat has already begun the process of collecting signatures to submit his candidacy for the primaries on Jun. 26.

Pedro Pérez and Ramón Fernández (Photo from El Diario La Prensa)

Pedro Pérez, 75, has always wanted the opportunity to see a Dominican reach the U.S. Congress, because, he said, “it would be a great accomplishment for our community.”

“It is about time for Dominicans to have a congressman,” said Pérez. “If Adriano Espaillat advances, I will vote for him, first for being Dominican and then for the work that he has done in the community. Our community needs someone to represent it in Washington.”

Another voter who would place ethnic origin before his political trajectory is Ramón Fernández, 58, who has lived in Washington Heights for 18 years.

“As a Dominican, I would vote for Espaillat because he is from my country,” said Fernández. “Additionally, Espaillat is a good Dominican and a good elected official. I myself have been to his office to seek help, and he has always given it to me. If he ends up winning the seat, it would be a very well-deserved triumph for our community,” he said.

For his part, Juana García, who has lived in the Bronx for eight years, also said she would vote for Espaillat for his Dominican origin, “and because he looks out for the well-being of us Dominicans in this country.”

The fact that these Dominicans prefer a candidate of their same ethnic origin is a tendency that is repeated throughout the United States, according to Néstor Montilla, president of the National Dominican American Council, part of the Dominican American National Roundtable.

“In cases like in New York, Providence, Rhode Island, and New Jersey, especially in Paterson and Passaic, where Dominicans have been elected, it was found that there had been some kind of civic action in favor of Dominican candidates,” said Montilla. “Espaillat himself, when he won the state Senate, recognized that he won thanks to the vote of Dominicans, because he wouldn’t have won otherwise,” said Montilla.

The new 13th District, with a Hispanic population of 55 percent, is mainly in Manhattan, encompassing Harlem, Washington Heights, Inwood and Marble Hill. It now also includes Kingsbridge, Kingsbridge Heights and Van Cortlandt Village.

But being a fellow countryman isn’t everything

But there are Dominicans, like Esperanza del Villar, who before submitting their vote, will first take into account how the candidate has worked for the community.

“I am undecided. If Espaillat is nominated, I would first evaluate the work that he and Rangel have done before marking my ballot,” said Villar. “It’s important that a Dominican represents us in the U.S. Congress, but for me, it’s more important that the candidate has done work in favor of the community,” she said.

Estefanía Rondón (Photo from El Diario La Prensa)

Estefanía Rondón, who has lived in the Bronx for the past six years, has the same opinion.

“I would vote for whichever candidate has a good record, regardless of their nationality,” said Rondón.

Young people of Dominican origin such as Marcos Caraballo, 23, and Shanell Corporán, 21, both born in the United States and residents of Upper Manhattan, said that they would take into consideration the ethnic origin of the candidate as much as his political platform.

“I would vote for Espaillat because he is Dominican and because he has been a good public official,” said Caraballo.

“It’s important that one of us represents us in Washington, but it’s also important that the person has a good record,” said Corporán.

The Dominican political analyst, Diógenes Abreu, said that there was a segment of the population that “is very small but still selects its candidate without regard to his ethnic origin.”

“The majority of Dominicans vote for Dominican candidates who are in the race because they feel that they are equals and they understand their needs,” said Abreu.

“But there are second- and third-generation Dominicans that have a broader understanding of U.S. politics, who vote for the person according to their political platform,” he said.

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