Like much of the city, Harlem has seen a major transformation over the last 20 years, and now, the man who has represented it for more than four decades finds himself trying to hang on to power in a district that has changed before his very eyes. Michael Scotto filed the following report for NY1.
Charles Rangel's district is nothing like it once was.
Redrawn in 2012, it now includes a portion of the Bronx. It is now majority Hispanic and only about one-quarter black, the center of power moving from Harlem to Washington Heights and the Bronx.
"I think Congressman Rangel has made a terrible miscalculation here," says John Gutierrez, professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "And that calculation is that the Harlem that he represents today is the same as the Harlem that he represented 30 years ago, and that simply isn't the case."
That new reality is playing out in East Harlem. The neighborhood gave Rangel enough votes to keep his seat in 2012, but now, much of the political establishment in the heavily Puerto Rican neighborhood is dumping Rangel for his chief rival, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who was born in the Dominican Republic and represents Washington Heights. They realize that with the district now 29 percent Dominican, political coalitions need to change.
"What's happening in East Harlem is that they're recognizing that the African-American voting stronghold is diminishing in Central Harlem," said political consultant Basil Smikle.
That said, Rangel may still have the edge. Our poll, conducted last month, showed Rangel leading his rivals. Plus, the date of the primary could play to Rangel's strengths. It's on June 24, a day most people don't associate with voting, which means only the most diehard supporters will come out.
Rangel has the help of the powerful health care workers' union Local 1199, in addition to the base he's been cultivating for years.
"He's done a lot of things for the community, and let him go this one more time," said one person in the neighborhood.
To overcome that, Espaillat will need his supporters to be even more vocal.
"The possibility of an Espaillat victory is there, but it all turns around on the effectiveness of his organization," said John Mollenkopf of The Graduate Center at CUNY.
After all, it is up against one that has been loyal to Rangel for years.