Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) is facing the most serious challenge of his more than four decade congressional career, but he was all smiles after voting at a school in Manhattan Tuesday morning. After casting his ballot, Rangel gave a thumbs up and a huge grin for the cameras. He was somewhat coy when Business Insider asked him the obvious question — who he voted for.
“The best person,” Rangel replied.
Later on, while taking questions from reporters outside, Rangel admitted he voted for himself.
With his wife, Alma, standing at his side, Rangel told the press it would be the final time he cast a ballot with his own name on it.
“I told my wife of over fifty years that will be the last time I will be voting for myself,” said Rangel.
Technically, if Rangel wins today’s Democratic primary, he will have an opportunity to vote for himself again in November’s general election, but he won’t necessarily need to. There won’t be any real opposition to Rangel if he survives his primary today.
However, his future is uncertain.
In 2012, Rangel’s district was redrawn adding heavily Latino neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan and The Bronx to his longtime stronghold in the historically African-American neighbourhood of Harlem. Additionally, the white population of the area has expanded in recent years. These changes have chipped away at Rangel’s base of support.
Last time around, Rangel’s main rival, Democratic State Senator Adriano Espaillat, finished just about 1,000 votes behind him after a legal battle over disputed vote counts. Espaillat, who, if elected, would be the first member of Congress from the Dominican Republic, capitalised on the district’s growing Latino population. This time around, Espaillat has more money and greater name recognition.
Still, Rangel suggested he doesn’t feel threatened by his rival. When Business Insider asked why Rangel hasn’t highlighted his mixed Puerto Rican and African American heritage in an attempt to counter Espaillat’s focus on his Latino roots, the congressman said he wasn’t even interested in discussing his opponent.
“I have repeatedly not even talked about Espaillat and this would be the wrong time for me to start now,” said Rangel.
That statement was far from true. Rangel has repeatedly slammed Espaillat’s record throughout this campaign. In one of their debates earlier this month, Rangel suggested Espaillat has nothing to run on apart from his Dominican origins.
“I hope somewhere during this debate … [Espaillat] tries to share what the heck has he done besides saying he’s a Dominican,” Rangel declared.
Espaillat responded to that remark by indicating he was upset by the congressman’s “rhetoric.”
“It really saddens me that after 44 years in Congress — and I say this truly candidly — it saddens me that the congressman has to stoop and lower himself to these types of unfounded attacks,” said Espaillat, later adding, “The fact of the matter is that I have passed over 70 pieces of legislation in Albany. … I would love to engage the congressman in a civil debate about where the future of the district is, but to engage in rhetoric that is inaccurate is really not serving to all of us.”
In spite of the heated language that emerged at points during their race, on election day, Rangel praised what he described as a “civil” campaign. Prior to voting he made brief remarks where he said the race continued a tradition in the district where “we’ve never had any political disputes that were based on language (or) where you were born.” Afterwards, one reporter asked Rangel what he thought was civil about the race.
“I haven’t felt any animosity toward anybody in this campaign nor anyone who supported any of my opponents. So I think this has been a civil campaign, issues have been raised and I haven’t had a bad day since,” Rangel said, in a reference to the title of his 2007 autobiography.
In addition to discussing the campaign, Rangel talked about what he hoped to accomplish with a final term in office. He emphasised his desire to push President Barack Obama’s agenda past opposition from Republicans, specifically the Tea Party.
“Congress is not at a record high in terms of peoples’ appreciation of the work we should be doing and not be doing. … Congress is going to have to change if the Rep Party is going to have any status after this. I look forward to working with the president during these last two years because I truly believe that there has to be a break in the hold that the Tea Party has on the Republican Party,” Rangel explained. “There are good people in the Republican Party. They want to vote the right way. We do have the votes for immigration, for job creation, for education, for affordable housing. We have the votes in the Congress, the only problem is that the Tea Party won’t release the regular Republicans who want to do the right thing.”
Rangel says he’s looking forward to working with Obama and he reportedly aggressively sought the president’s support in this race. However, as in 2012, Obama has not endorsed Rangel. Observers have generally attributed the president’s lack of backing for Rangel to the congressman’s decision to support Hillary Clinton rather than Obama in the 2008 presidential primaries and to his 2010 censure for violations of House ethics rules.
When Business Insider asked Rangel why he believed Obama wasn’t supporting his campaign, the congressman said he doesn’t believe the race is important enough.
“I hope you really believe me, but throughout this campaign, it has never entered my mind what the president of the United States would or would not do in my election. If you were to ask me what the hell I think about what he’s doing in Iraq, that would be a different question,” said Rangel. “But I would think that it would presumptuous of me to think that this is so important that the president would pause and see what’s happening with Democrats fighting it out in our great district.”
Rangel’s wife, Alma, also spoke outside the school and discussed why she thinks voters should give her husband two more years in office.
“I think he deserves another chance. His record speaks for itself and he promised me that he’s going to take me to Paris right after this is over,” she said, adding, “He needs to rest.”
Rangel, who turned 84 years old earlier this month, elaborated on his plans after retiring.
“We have decided that, after these two years are over, we’re going to go into our grandchildrens’ educational fund and we’re going to do some things together that we just haven’t done before. It’s going to be exciting,” said Rangel.
A spokesperson for the congressman said his grandchildren are 11, 10, and 6 years old.
In addition to dipping into his grandchildrens’ college fund, Rangel, who suffered a debilitating spinal infection just prior to his campaign in 2012, said he plans to spend more time with his family.
“When I was ill, my wife and I found experiences that we had passed over, had a chance to talk with each other and realised that, besides my passion for public service, I should have had a little more passion for my wife, children, and grandchildren,” Rangel said. “We’re going to share that passion together.”
Alma Rangel shook her head as her husband spoke indicating she disagreed with his criticism of his prior passion for her. He continued to discuss their relationship.
“Every time she complains, I tell her, ‘You knew who you were marrying when you married me,'” Rangel said. “I was involved in politics when we met.”