Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who was marred by an ethics scandal and slowed down by a bad back, survived a stiff primary challenge on Tuesday to win the Democratic nomination in his bid for a 22nd House term.
The longtime Harlem powerbroker and former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee defeated state Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat and three other candidates. In an overwhelmingly Democratic district, Rangel is virtually assured of retaining the seat in November.
The primary fight was the toughest of Rangel’s 42-year career. A raspy-voiced Korean War veteran who rose to become the first African-American chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, Rangel had been slowed by a bad back in recent months, which kept him away from both the House floor and the campaign trail. An ethics scandal had stripped away his power in Washington and led to a rare House censure in 2010, but it was a reconfigured congressional district that posed the biggest threat to Rangel’s return to Congress.
Anchored by Rangel’s political base in Harlem, New York’s 13th district had long been majority African-American. But redistricting added a section of new territory in the Bronx, giving Hispanic residents a majority for the first time. That opened the door for Espaillat, who was bidding to become the Dominican-born member of Congress.
He took aim at Rangel’s advancing age and diminished clout, telling voters, “It’s time for a change.
Rangel ran on his seniority and eventually won the support of most of the Democratic establishment in New York, even if some, like popular Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), waited until the final days of the campaign to endorse him.
Still, in a sign that Rangel remained a political liability 18 months after the House censured him, President Obama never endorsed him. Nor did former President Bill Clinton, a longtime ally who located his first post-presidential office in Harlem.
Rangel railed against Espaillat and the one-time supporters who deserted him in his final fight, but when it came to the snub from Obama, he said he understood.
“It does not surprise me that the president of the United States has more issues to deal with than a primary fight among Democrats in a congressional district in New York,” Rangel told The Hill last week. “I do not want to turn on the TV and see him struggle with his endorsement of me.”
Many observers and even some of Rangel’s supporters expect his next term to be his last, but the congressman would not commit to either retiring or running again in 2014. “I am not running a this-is-my-last-term-give-the-old-man-a-break kind of campaign,” Rangel told The Hill.
In other competitive New York primaries, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D) defeated three challengers, and Assemblywoman Grace Meng won a four-candidate race in the Queens district long held by retiring Rep. Gary Ackerman (D).
-- This story was updated at 11:14 p.m.