Historic Moment: Adriano Espaillat Becomes first Dominican Born US Congressman!
New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat declared victory in the Democratic primary race to succeed Rep. Charles Rangel on Tuesday night, with a lead of about 1,000 votes against his closest rival, Assemblyman Keith Wright.
“Tonight the 13th congressional district made history,” said Espaillat, who stands to become the first Dominican-born member of Congress, at a victory party in 809 Restaurant. “The American Dream is still alive,” said the congressman-to-be (it’s still a primary that he won – but a BIG one).
The black luminaries in attendance at Wright’s party, included Rangel, former mayor David Dinkins and others seemed stunned at the mere possibility that Harlem might lose the seat. “I never thought about that ever happening in all of my years, 72 years,” Rangel said as the results began to roll in. “It’s always been. How can that be?”
Preliminary results showed Espaillat winning 37 percent of the vote to Wright’s 34 percent, with the remainder divided among seven distant challengers. Wright refused to concede at a party in Harlem, saying, “this race ain’t over.”
Wright said there was a “real possibility of a lot of campaign irregularities and voter suppression” that may have impacted the results. He cited a memo written by a consultant to a pro-Espaillat super PAC that said Espaillat would win if he “prevents or suppresses the White Progressive and African American vote for Keith Wright.”
A victory for Espaillat who twice failed to unseat Rangel would mark a big shift in the politics of Upper Manhattan, where Harlem has held sway as a center of black political power for over 80 years!
But the “Village of Harlem,” as Rangel referred to the district he has represented for 45 years, has been profoundly altered in recent years by a many demographic changes. The district’s black population has dwindled to just 27 percent, while Latinos comprise 52 percent of residents — this campaign exposed this tensions in the district.
When the district was redrawn in 2012, Espaillat warned that forcing the two groups to compete for the same congressional seat would lead to “20 years of nuclear political war,” and his subsequent campaigns against Rangel were speckled with racial overtones.
In 2012, Espaillat allegedly warned of “crackers” unfairly reshaping the district, and labeled a longtime Dominican-American rival, Assemblyman Guillermo Linares, a “traitor” for supporting Rangel. According to community leaders that I have spoken with, Linares supported Rangel, in voting for a “big box” supermarket to come into Harlem, this vote enraged the mostly Latino/Dominican bodega and independent supermarket owners in Harlem, East Harlem and Washington Heights, because this would drastically hurt their business.
Linares allegedly put in his vote as city council in favor of approval, in part because, according to him change was needed and not approving it would create racial tensions between Blacks and Hispanics, as Blacks were for it and Hispanics (mainly the small business community) were against it. There was also another alleged reason: Linares may have been opened to the possibilities of getting Rangel’s blessing for his congressional seat when he retires if he sided with Rangel on this supermarket vote. That blessing obviously did not happen, as Rangel supported Keith Wright. Linares, who ran in this election anyway, and as of now there are no clear numbers that show how many votes he received, but that’s irrelevant, as he was by no way near to a significant amount and Adriano won. Perhaps the community remembered Linares’ vote in favor of the supermarket which many of Latinos in the area did not want, and it came to show in the polls now.
By the way, this supermarket fiasco happened in 1995 and Linares was a City Councilman and the first Dominican elected official in NYC history, and Now Adriano will most likely be the first Dominican-American elected into the US Congress. First with Linares, it was City history, now with Espaillat, it’s national history. What’s next for Adriano, the community and the emerging leaders coming up? Time will tell and interesting times they will be, especially when the projected number (according the US Census) is that by the year 2050, the US Hispanic population will rise to over 132 Million — almost half of the total population! What just happened in Harlem can very well happen in the White house one day. Tell that to Trump!