Charlie Rangel Fights for His Seat

For the first time in a long time, Rep. Charlie Rangel is facing a real challenge to his 20-term House tenure. Multiple challengers are taking on the Harlem congressman in today's Democratic primary, and one in particular has Rangel on edge.

State Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell, IV lost to Rangel in the 1994 primary, but his chances are much better this time around thanks to Rangel's recent ethical hang-ups. The House Ethics Committee has charged Rangel on 13 counts of ethics violations, including tax evasion and inappropriately soliciting donations for a center in his name at the City College of New York, and plans to try him sometime this fall. The process has been humiliating for Rangel, leading him to unexpectedly deliver a winding, passionate defense on the House floor and causing many high-profile Democrats to distance themselves from him.

Two allies who have stuck by Rangel, however, are New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and President Bill Clinton, both of whom have recorded robocalls for the final days of Rangel's campaign. According to the Washington Post, these calls are aimed at the highly educated voter bloc residing in the Upper East and West Sides, which mark the lower edge of Rangel's district.

Powell, on the other hand, is targeting East Harlem, a heavily Latino area. He was born in Puerto Rico and is part Latino, which should help him in a district that looks very different than it did when Rangel assumed his first term in 1971. Harlem was then the most iconic black neighborhood in America. Now, 45 percent of Rangel's constituents are Hispanic, and only 31 percent are black. Powell has potential pull with both groups thanks to his African American father's 26-year legislative history in the district (Rangel unseated Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. in 1970). Powell is also plagued by an impaired driving conviction and two rape accusations (no charges were filed in either case).  

If enough Harlem residents are disillusioned with Rangel but unsatisfied with Powell, a smattering of other candidates may split the anti-Rangel vote and end up sending him back to Washington for yet another term.

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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