After 46 Years, Rangel District Seeks New Faces

Zoila Rodríguez, from the Dominican Republic, and Luis Campozano, from Ecuador, call on residents of the 13th district to vote on June 28 to elect the Democratic candidate who will fight for Charles Rangel's seat in November. (Photo by Edwin Martínez via El Diario)

Zoila Rodríguez, from the Dominican Republic, and Luis Campozano, from Ecuador, call on residents of the 13th Congressional District to vote on June 28 to elect the Democratic candidate who will fight for Charles Rangel’s seat in November. (Photo by Edwin Martínez via El Diario)

After 46 years serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Charles Rangel – who turns 86 on June 11 – is getting ready to say goodbye and let a new face represent New York’s 13th District.

Nine candidates, three of them Latino, are vying for the seat in November’s general election, but they first have to compete in the Democratic primary scheduled for June 28.

Angela Fernández, executive director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, said that, while the 13th District of New York has made significant progress, it is urgent for Rangel’s successor to utilize federal agencies to benefit the community.

“We are seeing extreme wealth gaining access into the district and also extreme poverty. That is why our new representative to Congress, whoever it is, must be capable of closing that gap,” said the community leader.

“We need shelter, housing, and to guarantee people that they will have a place to live. We cannot allow people who have lived in an apartment for 30 years to be evicted from their homes,” said Fernández. She added that the new Congressional member will have to attract more businesses into the district to create jobs with better conditions, so as to combat unemployment.

The 13th District comprises the neighborhoods of Harlem, East Harlem, Marble Hill, Washington Heights, Inwood, part of Morningside Heights and the Upper West Side, and a small portion of the western Bronx.

“We must identify the companies that pay their employees well and bring them here. You cannot give that privilege to just anyone. You first need to identify the business models that yield more benefits by following up on the way they have performed with their employees,” said Fernández.

Immigration reform continues to be one of the most pressing needs of the district and the country as a whole.

“We need the new representative to be able to clearly communicate the message of immigration reform, as [that person] will need to deal with more than 400 other Congress members,” she said.

Housing is key

Dominican-born Zoila Rodríguez, a resident of East Harlem, said that housing is becoming increasingly scarce in the district and that this should be one of the priorities of Rangel’s successor.

“Many middle-class and poor people live here and, if rents don’t go down, we will end up without a place to live,” said the single mother of two. “There also needs to be more protection on the street, more vigilance, and they need to do more in terms of health as well because, if a person has a mid-range income, it is unfair to make them pay for such expensive insurance.”

Rodríguez did not hide her preference for candidate Adriano Espaillat, who might become the first Dominican to occupy a federal seat.

“I will give him my vote because he is a person who knows firsthand the needs of this district, because he is Hispanic and also because he is Dominican,” she said.

For his part, Luis Campozano, an Ecuadorean who has lived in the Bronx for 21 years, expressed confidence that a Hispanic will succeed Rangel.

“We hope that, if Espaillat wins, he will defend the rights of all of us,” he said, adding that the main problem faced by the 13th District is unemployment.

“If there are no jobs here, things will get very hard and we will see more poverty in the district. We also need more and better trained police, and to be able to press for immigration reform,” said the member of the Local 78 union, pointing out that the new member of Congress has an obligation to assume a position of leadership regarding immigration.

Campozano called on all 13th District voters to come out on June 28 and cast their ballots. “Our vote is very important. When you vote, you decide.”

By the same token, Lucía Gómez-Jiménez, director of Organizing and Strategic Partnerships at LiUNA Local 78, said that this will be a historic moment for the district’s Latino community, as it stands a great chance to seize yet another seat in the federal Congress.

“For the first time in 46 years, we will have the opportunity to elect someone new – for the people to choose – based on specific needs. The year 2000 represented a boom of the Hispanic community, but they didn’t understand that the Dominican community had become too large for the space they had,” said the community leader. Gómez-Jiménez explained that electoral lines were redrawn in 2012, adding parts of the Bronx to the 13th District. This increased the number of Hispanics in the area, allowing them to vote to address their needs.

Democrat likely to win

Carlos Vargas-Ramos, research associate with the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, said that the June 28 primary is crucial for the district. According to the academic, because New York typically votes Democrat, whoever wins the primary is likely to seize the federal seat in November.

“The reality is that, in New York’s political system, the primary is the most important election,” said Vargas-Ramos. “Unless a tremendous political downturn comes about, the Democratic candidate will be the new Congress member.” The analyst pointed out that, although this is an opportunity for another Hispanic to reach Congress, nothing is set in stone yet.

“These are important elections because there is an open seat. That is a chance for a new person to represent the area, which has changed a lot with the new district boundaries drawn in the redistribution. This makes it more likely – although it does not guarantee – that a Hispanic will end up obtaining that seat,” said Vargas-Ramos.

“It is a district with a Hispanic majority, but it is a divided Hispanic population, geographically and ethnically. On the one hand, there is a Puerto Rican community and, on the other, a Dominican community, and we must not forget that the area has been historically African American, so it is impossible to predict what the outcome will be at this point,” said the academic.

Vargas-Ramos said that Rangel’s successor will have much work to do and predicted that it will not be an easy task. “Financial promotion of the district is crucial. It is still a relatively impoverished district, and it’s vital to create more jobs at a time when no other measures to reduce such poverty are available,” he said.

“Regarding housing in the district, there is a fair amount of public housing, and representatives have a say in that. The people must insist that [politicians] pay attention to their needs,” added Vargas-Ramos.

The researcher also said that the vote will be historic whether a Hispanics wins or loses, as either scenario will send a clear message. “If [a Hispanic candidate] wins, it will be a sign that the message is reaching the voters properly, but if not, then it will mean that politicians haven’t been able to translate what they say into political leverage.”

Although an estimated 300,000 voters are registered in the district, only around 50,000 [are expected to] cast their ballot.

The candidates

  • Yohanny Cáceres (D), tax preparer
  • Suzan Johnson Cook (D), pastor and former ambassador
  • Adriano Espaillat (D), State Senator
  • Mike Gallagher (D), graphic artist
  • Guillermo Linares (D), State Assembly member
  • Adam Clayton Powell IV (D), former Assembly member and Council member
  • Sam Sloan (D), former candidate for governor of NY
  • Clyde Williams (D), former advisor to President Clinton and political director of the Democratic National Committee
  • Keith Wright (D), State Assembly member
  • Tony Evans (R), lawyer
  • Daniel Vila (G), community organizer

(…)

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