It was supposed to be the election race that could have put the first Dominican-American into congress, however the result of last Tuesday’s primary election disproved many political analysts and quieted any hopeful Latinos of such a change and accomplishment.
Most believed that State Senator Adriano D. Espaillat would win the seat and bring necessary change to a growing area of New York City, instead popular candidate Representative Charles B. Rangel managed to snatch a 23rd term as the representative in congress.
But why was so many hopeful or believed Espaillat would win?
How did Rangel manage to win an election against Espaillat who many believed would take the election?
The reason, too many people believed that because of the rising Latino population of one area could guarantee a candidate like Espaillat a win because he being Latino would automatically pull the Latino vote.
Comprising of Upper Manhattan and a small portion of the Western part of the Bronx, the 13th Congressional District includes such neighborhoods like Marble Hill, Harlem, Spanish Harlem, Washington Heights, Morningside Heights, and many other neighborhoods.
In these neighborhoods the populace has mostly consisted of Black Americans, however in recent years these neighborhoods has seen an increase in Latinos. With a flourishing Latino community, many political analysts and Latino hopefuls believed that Espaillat could take the seat from Rangel because Latinos in the area would not only want to bring in a new representative but see a fellow Latino in charge.
Backing Espaillat, numerous organizations put in countless man hours hitting the populated Latino areas in the 13th district. Volunteers mainly focused ensuring that Latinos of the El Barrio or Spanish Harlem were registered to or become registered to vote in the upcoming election; also the volunteers were hoping to sway Latin voters to make the change to Espaillat.
For some in the area, they were up for seeing Espaillat in congress.
“Today is a historic day, and we have to fight,” said Marco Antonio Torres, aged 54, last Tuesday while still working as a volunteer for the Espaillat campaign.
From Puerto Rico, Torres believed that by voting for Espaillat it would not only put in a Dominican-American candidate but was important since he as a Latino would aid the community since they needed “a new face in El Barrio, and someone to control the rents,” and also wanted to see Rangel out since “It’s time for the old man to leave.”
While Torres may represent some of the older constitutes, the appeal of electing Espaillat was also present among younger constitutes in the 13th congressional district last Tuesday as well.
“Rangel is old and cowardly, while Espaillat is younger and braver. If anyone can bring about change to this district, it is Espaillat,” said Javier Colón, aged 23.
Aside from the connection regarding ethnicity, for political analysts the prospect of Espaillat was high considering the presence of a new representative was alluring and believed to promise a new change to the area. Since the area was growing and changing, the idea of replacing Rangel who is believed to have occupied his congressional seat for far too long seemed to be understandable since new face could represent the new face of the area.
However, this idea was truly focused on and because of it a sense of familiarity was left unchecked and therefore more appealing than the opposition of change.
Samantha Blackwell Morales, aged 33, decision to vote for Rangel was due to the representative’s historical accomplishments in the area. According to Blackwell Morales, Rangel “fought to keep a community center open where my children attend.”
It is the loyalty of Blackwell Morales and others who live in the area have for Rangel that has backed Rangel for 40 consecutive years and possibly earned him another term. Voters may have voted for Rangel because they may have felt incline to do so for the controversial candidate because of his long history as representative versus the new and somewhat inexperienced (in the sense of congressional experience) Espaillat.
“My great-grandmother and my grandmother voted for Rangel, and I will too,” said Kelmy Rodríguez, aged 54. “There are 30 of us in my family living in this area, and we will all vote for him. This is not the time to make changes, and we need experience. Espaillat would need two years in Congress just to find his way to the bathrooms.”
Notwithstanding Rangel’s familiarity among voters, political analysts and some Espaillat hopefuls believed he would win because Latinos in the area would want to see a Latino represent them.
Since the 2012 elections, Latinos in the United States have been the targeted group by campaigners because of the increasing population within the group. While this has given a positive light onto a group of people, this notion has also generated a somewhat atmosphere of offense and distrust to some. Owner of Kalhúa’s Café and Restaurant, Adrián Sánchez, aged 49, is an example of this feeling.
Sánchez describes his interpretation of this election and the pull of Latino voters, “Recently, Espaillat’s people came by to put his posters on my restaurant without my permission. I was very offended because they were quite arrogant. They cannot assume that we will vote for him just because we are Latino. For them, we are only a number. The rest of the year, they are nowhere to be seen.”
The notion that the parts of the 13th congressional district that holds a high Latino population should have ultimately have led to a vote for Espaillat is not without error. Two years ago, Espaillat and Rangel campaigned for the same congressional seat and according to the City’s Board of Elections, Rangel won then obtaining 2,500 more votes in this neighborhood.
While it is true that there was a greater effort to get more Latinos “aware” of their voting power, the idea that Espaillat would ultimately win, even with the support of City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, did not account for the one thing Espaillat lacked and appeared not to truly focus on in matters of swaying residents: Loyalty and Familiarity in the district he was seeking to represent.
Although some analysts and supporters noted Rangel’s 40 years in office provided him with a deeper connection to the constitutes of the area, that didn’t seem to be a focus for those who were supporting Espaillat. What seemed to be a main focus was that Latinos would vote for Latinos.
The issue with the Latino vote is that for any campaigner is that do not believe that by merely trying to relate to the Latino community, whether through racial or cultural background, does not mean it would ensure the election of a candidate because of that connection. It is faulty to only play to the cultural interests of the Latino especially when the very community itself is just as important to all Latinos and non-Latinos alike.