NEW YORK – Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., emerged victorious Tuesday in what may have been the toughest race of his political career.
Rangel won the Democratic primary for the seat he has held since 1971 against state Sen. Adriano Espaillat.
The historically African-American district in Harlem now has a majority of Hispanics following the redistricting process. Espaillat, 57, vied to become the first Dominican-American member of Congress.
Rangel, 81, missed three months’ worth of votes this year due to a back injury that kept him away from the Capitol until early May. Espaillat’s campaign highlighted concerns about Rangel’s health and ability to fulfill his legislative duties.
But the vote split multiple ways. Clyde Williams, who previously served as national political director for the Democratic National Committee and a domestic policy adviser for former President Bill Clinton’s foundation in Harlem, posed the second-biggest threat to Rangel’s reelection bid. Williams, 50, also touted endorsements from The New York Times and The New York Daily News.
Undeterred, Rangel argued his 41 years’ worth of seniority in the House made him a more effective lawmaker.
After his victory, Rangel thanked his constituents and expressed his gratitude to voters in the redrawn district.
"I welcome this special privilege to serve the people of the Bronx and those in northern Manhattan whom I have had the honor to represent in Congress in the past. I will not let them down," Rangel said.
In 2007, Rangel became the first African-American to chair the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees the nation’s tax code and entitlement programs.
But his tenure was cut short in 2010 after he was accused of 13 ethics violations. They included failing to pay income taxes, providing incomplete financial disclosures and using Congressional resources for personal activities. Rangel referred himself to the House Ethics Committee in an attempt to allay the charges.
Fellow Democrats, including then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.,, pressured Rangel to relinquish the gavel. The party was in the heat of the 2010 midterm election campaigns and negotiations on health care reform, much of which fell under Rangel’s committee. After his initial refusal to step down, Rangel submitted a “leave of absence” from the chairmanship in March 2010 after a long, late-night meeting in Pelosi's office.
Rangel nonetheless sailed to victory in a crowded primary field and general election that year during the ongoing House Ethics Committee investigation.
Upon his return to the House, however, the Ethics Committee found him guilty of 11 violations. The saga ended that December when the House voted to censure one of its members. It was the first time the House had censured a lawmaker since 1983. Censure is the most severe punishment the chamber can inflict on a member, short of expulsion.
It proved to be a tough vote for many members due to Rangel’s wide personal popularity on both sides of the aisle.
Rangel accused his colleagues of unfairly pursuing the issue in an election year to appear as if they were enforcing the law.
But he declared that the censure vote didn’t define his entire congressional career. Referring to his harrowing experiences in the Vietnam War that won him the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, he closed his remarks with his signature line: “Compared to where I’ve been, I haven’t had a bad day since.”