Can Espaillat Beat Rangel the Second Time Around?

The June 24 primary to elect the Democrat candidate for the 13th Congressional District is heating up. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario).

The June 24 primary to elect the Democratic candidate for the 13th Congressional District is heating up. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

NOTE: In a separate editorial, El Diario/La Prensa endorsed Adriano Espaillat for Congressional District 13, stating that “Espaillat represents a new generation of Democrats, in addition to hope for renewal.” The paper continued: “We expect him to be able to represent the needs of his district and strengthen, along with Reps. Nydia Velázquez and José Serrano and New Jersey Sen. Robert Menéndez, New York City’s importance in the Hispanic caucus in Congress.”

Two years ago, Adriano Espaillat was almost a thousand votes away from becoming the first Dominican in Congress. His adversary in the Democratic primary for the 13th District, Charles Rangel — who has represented the district since 1971 — survived the challenge, thanks in part to the crucial support of a number of Hispanic political leaders. Things are different this time around.

Espaillat is being backed by Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Both supported Rangel in 2012.

“I want to get the district to unite and work on the issues that matter to all of us,” said Mark-Viverito during Espaillat’s campaign launching ceremony. A victory for the Dominican politician on June 24 would consolidate the new Latino power cluster that emerged after Bill de Blasio’s election.

Although Rangel has significant backing — including the support of former President Bill Clinton and Rep. José Serrano — these endorsements will not necessarily translate into more votes. The remaining candidates, Rev. Michael Walrond and Yolanda García, share a minimal 5 percent, which leaves them without a chance to win.

The ethnic and racial composition of the electorate is likely to decide the election. Most voters in the district are Hispanic (46 percent) and black (37 percent). The African-American population — concentrated in Central and West Harlem — lean massively in favor of Rangel (68 percent), while Latinos are divided between Espaillat (52 percent) and Rangel (25 percent), according to a New York Times/NY1/Siena College survey. The poll showed that Rangel would win with 41 percent of the votes against Espaillat’s 32 percent.

This divide in the Latino vote reflects the differences between the Puerto Rican and the Dominican vote, the two largest groups within the area’s Hispanic population.

Only two years ago, Rangel won in El Barrio 2 to 1, a victory attributed to the Puerto Rican vote, as analyzed by New York’s public radio station WNYC.

Rangel, the son of a Puerto Rican father, is not only well-known among the local constituency, but his campaign has twice the funding of Espaillat’s. The New York Times/NY1/Siena College survey found that 40 percent of the electorate do not know who Espaillat is.

Even though Espaillat’s popularity surges in the neighborhoods of Washington Heights, Marble Hill and Inwood, areas with a high concentration of Dominican residents, Dominicans statistically vote in small numbers.

Dominicanos USA, a nonpartisan nonprofit, found that only 18 percent of Dominican voters exercised their right during the last municipal election. The organization’s registration campaign has been able to add over 21,000 new voters so far.

During the debates, Rangel has been pointing out that there have been significant demographic changes in his district. Aware that in most elections in the United States, demographics plays a decisive role, he has accused Espaillat of relying solely on being Dominican to attract voters.

“Aside from Upper Manhattan, the 13th Congressional District includes part of the Bronx, where the population is mostly Hispanic,” said political analyst John Gutiérrez. The decline in the African-American population in Harlem, where Rangel has enjoyed consistent support, may also affect the outcome this year.

Bottom line, Gutiérrez says that the candidate who is capable of “getting people to vote” will be the one to win. That is where the political analyst believes that Espaillat has the upper hand.

Rangel appears to be worried. His campaign resorted to associating Espaillat with the Tea Party because he did not vote in favor of the Dream Act, and for accepting a donation from an organization led by his fellow Democrat Jeff Klein. Klein is an independent Democrat who has cooperated with Republicans in Albany.

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