POLITICS

Espaillat poised to replace Rangel, become 1st Dominican-American in Congress

U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, left, and state Sen. Adriano Espaillat,

U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, left, and state Sen. Adriano Espaillat,  (AP2012)

The third time seems to be the charm for New York state Sen. Adriano D. Espaillat.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Espaillat held a lead of more than 1,000 votes in the Democratic primary to succeed U.S. Rep. Charles B. Rangel, who is retiring after 45 years in office.

The next top votegetter in the nine-person race was state Assemblyman Keith L. T. Wright, whom Rangel endorsed.

Wright has refused to concede the race, despite trailing Espaillat 36.8 to 34 percent with 99 percent of precincts reporting.

For Espaillat, who claimed victory, winning the primary would virtually assure him the seat, given the heavily Democratic electorate in the district, making him the first Dominican-American elected to the U.S. Congress.

Cid Wilson, a Dominican-American who was born in Washington Heights and became a national civil rights advocate, said Espaillat’s victory makes him “the political Neil Armstrong of the Dominican community.”

“It’s well-deserved, he’s been a legislator for 20 years,” Wilson said to Fox News Latino. “Dominicans are all over social media today excited about the news of his victory, and particularly that we’re going to have a Dominican voice in Congress for the first time.”

Voters from throughout the 13th Congressional District elected a country boy from Santiago de los Caballeros in the Dominican Republic to be the nominee of the Democratic Party.

- State Sen. Adriano Espaillat

The state senator has lost two previous runs for Congress, both times (2012 and 2014) he lost to Rangel in the primary.

An official victory by the Dominican-American would signal a demographic changing of the guard in the district, which includes Upper Manhattan, including Harlem, and parts of the Bronx. Having a Rep. Espaillat would mark the first time in more than 70 years that Harlem and its environs would have a representative in Congress who is not African-American.

Rangel, who has often let his dislike of Espaillat be known, clearly does not welcome non-African-American representation in the district.

He said in an interview with the New York Times before the primary: “Can you tell the people in Boston that some day you won’t have an Irish congressman? I don’t want to talk about it, and it can’t happen now – that’s for damn sure.”

Espaillat, meanwhile, was touting his performance at the primary as a turning point for Dominicans.

“Voters from throughout the 13th Congressional District elected a country boy from Santiago de los Caballeros in the Dominican Republic to be the nominee of the Democratic Party,” Espaillat said to supporters, the New York Times reported. “So from Harlem to East Harlem, from Washington Heights, from Inwood to the Northwest Bronx, I want to thank all the voters that cast their votes in support of this historic candidacy.”

“We are Washington Heights, and we stand on a hill and on any given day, on a bad day we can see that lady in the harbor. We can see her with a torch in her hand,” he said: “This is an American story.”

On the streets of Washington Heights, where many Dominicans settled decades ago, people cheered and drivers honked their horns, yelling “We made it!,” according to the Times.

“It was time to take Washington Heights to Washington, D.C.,” Michelle Minguez told the newspaper. “This is history in the making.”

Wright indicated he was nowhere close to conceding. He alleged voting irregularities without going into details, the Times said.

At a gathering in Harlem, Wright declared: “Suffice it to say, this campaign ain’t over.”

He added, “No candidate can declare victory tonight, not until every vote is counted. This race is further complicated by the real possibility of a lot of camp irregularities and voter suppression.”

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.