Tuesday the new Latino majority in a New York City congressional district will pick a Democratic candidate for the fall election. This will be an historic contest in the world of Latino and black politics.
In an exclusive interview with Fox News Latino, the incumbent Representative Charlie Rangel, told me he is ignoring the potential black-brown split. Rangel said he is focused purely on the issues impacting his district.
This is the first time in a 42-year congressional career that Rangel, the son of a Latino father and a black American mother, will be running in a district that is not majority black.
In the June 26 Democratic primary, he will face a popular Latino state Senator, Adriano Espaillat.
But Rangel doubts voters will reduce the contest to voting for the black candidate versus the brown candidate.
“All I can say is that we’ve never in 40 years had that in my Congressional district,” Rangel said.
“If you got problems like unemployment, Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and there’s a guy that’s always been there for you and for your family, then you say ‘He’s a nice guy. I don’t know where he came from or how long he’s been here, but Charlie Rangel’s the man,’” he said. “That's what I’m relying on.”
Fifty-five percent of the newly drawn district’s constituency is Latino and less than 25 percent is African American.
A key element of Rangel’s campaign has been to sponsor events to educate Latino newcomers to the district on process of becoming citizens. But he dismissed any suggestion that the heart of his campaign is aimed at shoring up his support amongst Latino voters.
“New York is my heart and only because we are the heart of immigrants—there’s hardly any darn group that I haven’t spoken to, whether it’s the Korean group or whatever group it is,” he said
“But, more particularly, because in my district I have a substantial number of Dominican people [I am speaking to their concerns]. Lovely people. Wonderful people. Hard-working people.”
Rangel has spent exactly half of his life serving in the United States House of Representatives. The New York Democrat, who recently celebrated his 82nd birthday, was first elected to Congress in 1971 representing the Harlem area of New York City.
He is currently the third-longest serving member of the House, a former chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Yet, for all his accomplishments Rep. Rangel finds himself in a changing political world. In New York and across the country, Latino population growth has far outpaced all other minorities in recent years. In Los Angeles and Dallas as well as New York and other big cities a rising generation of Latino politicians is now challenging black politicians as never before. Currently, four members of the Congressional Black Caucus represent districts that have a plurality of Hispanic voters.
Rangel is a major voice in Democratic politics nationally. In 2008 he supported Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the primary contests. This time he is supporting the black president and expects Obama to win the Latino vote and win the election.
In our interview, he said President Obama’s problem is going to be energizing the minority vote. “Are people going to get so damn enthusiastic—without a job, without any hope, pulling their kids out of college? Are they going to say ‘I’ve got to get there [and vote] for the second term of the first black president?
“I don’t find that enthusiasm,” Rangel added. “Except [as a reaction to] the meanness of the Republican Party.”
Rangel comes to this election having recently survived the strongest challenges of his career following a 2008 investigation by the House Ethics Committee for improper fundraising for his campaign and tax irregularities. In March of 2010, he stepped aside as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and nine months later, he was censured by the full House.
Many political observers believed this would mark the end of his political career just as corruption charges ended the career of his predecessor Adam Clayton Powell 40 years earlier.
But Rangel survived the scandal. And now he is trying to survive the changing demographics of his Congressional district. If he survives, he will become a model for the potential of black and Hispanic coalitions going into the 21st Century in American politics.
Juan Williams is a co-host of FNC's "The Five," where he is one of seven rotating Fox personalities.