Influential Latino Dems clash in NY district

Influential Latino Dems clash in NY district
© Courtesy of Adriano Espaillat

Three Hispanic Democrats will face off in a primary election Tuesday to represent the nation's smallest — and densest — congressional district.

New York state Sen. Adriano EspaillatAdriano de Jesus Espaillat CabralDems charge ahead on immigration Hispanic Caucus asks for meeting with top immigration official New Zealand mosque killings raise fears among US Muslims MORE, New York state assemblyman Guillermo Linares — both Dominicans — and Adam Clayton Powell IV, a Puerto Rican, are vying for the district long held by Rep. Charles Rangel, who is retiring this year after 45 years in Congress. 


If a Hispanic candidate wins the seat, he'll become the third Latino member of Congress from New York City.

Other Democrats in next Tuesday’s primary include New York Assemblyman Keith Wright, who has been endorsed by Rangel, and former Democratic National Committee political director Clyde Williams. Both are African-Americans. 

The district is a safe Democratic seat, meaning whoever wins the primary will almost certainly be elected to Congress in November.

Among the non-Latino candidates, Wright is considered the front-runner, having garnered support not only from Rangel but also from David Dinkins, the city’s first African-American mayor. Espaillat is considered to be the Hispanic candidate with the best chance of winning the seat.

The 13th Congressional District has changed significantly since Rangel was first elected, evolving from being identified as a national and cultural African-American powerhouse to one with a rapid growth in the Latino population.

A majority of those living in the district are Hispanic, 55 percent, and they make up 40 percent of eligible voters. African-Americans are 38 percent of the district’s voters, while 17 percent are non-Hispanic whites.

Angelo Falcón, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, a nonpartisan research group based in New York City, said Espaillat will have to win over some of the black vote to win.

“There is an African-American political tradition in Harlem that’s hard to shake, with people like Rangel, Powell, Dinkins (the city’s first black mayor) and the district has historically been seen as African-American,” Falcón said. “Not only is there still a significant number of African-American voters, Latino voters have several choices this time around and their vote can be split.

“It’s really hard to predict what’s going to happen, but Espaillat can’t do it with just the Latino vote.” 

Espaillat, who was first elected to public office in 1996, is backed by the Latino Victory Fund, the political action committee of the nonpartisan Latino Victory Project, a group that advocates for greater Latino voter turnout and a greater number of Latino candidates.

“Adriano Espaillat is an experienced and dedicated Latino candidate who has stood by our community and represents the issues that Latinos care about,” said LVF interim director César Blanco. “We are committed to increasing diversity in government at the local, state, and national level.” 

Espaillat and Linares faced off against each other in a New York Senate election in 2012, and both Espaillat and Powell have tried and failed to unseat Rangel several times in the past. Espaillat came closest in 2012, when Rangel narrowly beat him with a margin of victory of less than 1,000 votes. 2014 was also close, with a little more than 2,300 votes separating the two.

Powell was born and raised in Puerto Rico by his Puerto Rican mother, the third wife of Adam Clayton Powell Jr., New York’s first black member of Congress. Powell Jr. spent 26 years in Congress before being defeated in the 1970 primary by Rangel. 

New York’s 13th District is the country’s smallest at just 10 square miles, and holds nearly 70,000 residents per square mile. It includes traditionally African-American neighborhoods such as Harlem, but also the largely Latino areas of Spanish Harlem, Washington Heights and parts of the Bronx. 

“The Latino population in the city has grown, but representation in Congress hasn’t. If there would be a third Latino (in Congress), this would be it,” said Falcón.

There are currently two Latino members of Congress from the Big Apple: Democrats Nydia Velázquez — whose district includes portions of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan’s Lower East Side – and José Serrano from the Bronx.

Since legislative primaries in New York are held separately from presidential primaries, voter turnout is expected to be lower than usual for this race. 

“There still are people who don’t know that there’s an election [on June 28], and it’s also the last day of school [for New York City public schools]. A lot of folks are distracted with that and other things, and not really paying attention to an election,” says Falcón.

LVF is teaming up with CHC BOLD PAC, the fundraising arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and investing close to $60,000 on mailers and GOTV efforts on behalf of Espaillat in the days leading up to the Tuesday vote. A big part of their effort will be calling voters to get them to the polls. 

“There are over 800,000 Dominican Americans living in New York, and Adriano Espaillat is on track to becoming the first Dominican elected to Congress,” said BOLD PAC Chairman Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.).

“BOLD PAC and the Latino Victory Fund are working together to ensure that diverse candidates with the right experience and skills are elected and giving a voice to the communities that have been voiceless for far too long.” 

—Patricia Guadalupe is a contributing writer for LATINO magazine.