he Dominican-American who wanted to become Harlem’s congressman had a great story and he worked hard, putting together an impressive political operation during his campaign. But last night Adriano Espaillat’s quest to defeat Representative Charles Rangel and become the first Dominican-American in Congress failed by almost 6 points. Rangel took home 45.2 percent of the vote and will be returning to Washington for his 43rd year in Congress.
His win prompted New York State Assemblyman Keith L. T. Wright, who attended Rangel’s victory party at the soul food restaurant Sylvia’s last night, to make one of the most inappropriate political comparisons ever: “Charlie Rangel might be the Strom Thurmond of Harlem.” Um, I’m pretty sure that Rangel doesn’t want to be compared to the man who filibustered the 1957 civil rights bill for a record breaking 24 hours and 18 minutes and the man who once said: “all the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement.” I get that Thurmond was the longest “serving” Senator in U.S. history, but can we try another metaphor please?
I figured that Espaillat was headed for doom when I returned home from the polls and learned from my husband that at our precinct — in the heart of Spanish Harlem — only 261 people had voted by 8:30 pm. As Keith Lilly, a Rangel campaign worker that I met earlier in the day at a local Chinese restaurant said, “If Espaillat turns out the vote, they win. If we turn out the vote, we win.”
I suppose it’s news that Espaillat lost, but who’s surprised that after 42 years in Congress, Rangel won? The bigger news to me is that State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries won his race against the controversial Charles Barron. NY1 says that with 98 percent of precincts reporting, Jeffries had won 72 percent of the vote. That’s news because it means we’ll most likely lose Hakeem Jeffries in the Assembly, where he has lately been a staunch advocate for progressive causes like further decriminalizing marijuana.
Jeffries was the man behind the assembly bill that would have sharply reduced the number of marijuana arrests in New York City by decriminalizing less than 25 grams of marijuana in public view and decriminalizing the smoking of that marijuana. He helped push Cuomo to introduce a more conservative bill that included decriminalizing marijuana in public view. “There have been mayors and Presidents and governors, all of whom have acknowledged to using marijuana when they were younger,” Jeffries noted. “We didn’t criminalize those individuals. We should stop criminalizing tens of thousands of young people for doing the same thing.”
The Jeffries bill and the Cuomo bill died at the end of this legislative session. I was sort of hoping that Jeffries would come back and fight the battle again when the legislature is set to resume proceedings in January. But with his district being as Democratic as it is, his ascension to national politics is all but assured. The best we can hope for is that some other progressive lawmaker will step in to play the roles he is vacating and that when he gets to Washington, he’ll stay true to the game.