After staying off the campaign trail for two months due to a back injury, Rep. Charles Rangel was back in action Tuesday preparing to face off against State Senator Adriano Espaillat and three other challengers in the Democratic primary in June.
At a press conference during an event for small businesses and entrepreneurs, Rangel—who used a walker and addressed the crowd from his chair—called Espaillat a “good man” who has done “a lot of good work for the community.”
“This is what America’s all about. You have to have qualified candidates out there,” Rangel said.
“I’m glad to learn that Rangel is up and about because this must be a campaign where we vigorously debate ideas and issues that affect the people in our district,” Espaillat said in a statement to Spectator.
Rangel indicated on Tuesday that he welcomes the competition from Espaillat, who officially announced his run for the congressional seat last week.
The Dominican-American Espaillat is seen as Rangel’s toughest competition in a district where, due to this year’s redistricting, a majority of the voting-age residents are Hispanic. Another candidate for Rangel’s seat, Vince Morgan, dropped out of the race and endorsed Espaillat on Tuesday.
Rangel—who has held the 13th Congressional District seat since 1971, when he defeated longtime incumbent Adam Clayton Powell Jr.—criticized the new district lines as forcing politicians who were previously allies to run against each other. He supported Espaillat in his campaign for State Senate in 2010.
“We have a whole lot of work to do to repair the damage that has been done by reapportionment,” Rangel said.
Referring to the expanded Hispanic constituency in his district, Rangel said that he will have to “earn the support of those people who I’ve never had the privilege of serving.” He pointed to the work he has done for the local Dominican community.
“I think my record speaks for itself, in opening up trade with the Caribbean, especially as it relates to the Dominican Republic and building up their economy,” he said.
Rangel also recently added Moises Perez, the former executive director of the nonprofit Alianza Dominicana, to his campaign. Perez co-founded that Washington Heights organization, which serves the Dominican community, but he resigned after a city investigation into his financial transactions.
When asked about the possibility of gaining the support of State Assembly member Guillermo Linares, a Dominican who replaced Espaillat in the assembly in 2010, Rangel said that “it’s a terrible thing to get involved in a race and cause your friends to have to take sides because of their concern about their culture rather than the quality of leadership.”
“I only hope that with the integrity of the people you’re talking about, that we’ll all be able to say that we’re one family,” he said.
Linares, who was present at the press conference, said he is undecided on which candidate to support in the congressional race. The other candidates are former Bill Clinton adviser Clyde Williams and activists Joyce Johnson and Craig Schley.
Assembly members Keith Wright and Robert Rodriguez, City Council member Inez Dickens, and former Mayor David Dinkins, along with Linares, stood behind the seated Rangel as he spoke.
“I was not born with the U.S. Congress stamped on me, and I don’t expect that I’ll die with the stamp,” Rangel said. “But one thing is for certain—that I’ve always, always encouraged candidates to get involved. I have to. That’s what the country’s all about, and that’s the opportunity that I was given, and I sincerely believe that.”