New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat’s team went into the day of his Democratic primary against Rep. Charlie Rangel preparing for a legal fight. Before the polls closed Tuesday Espaillat and his supporters attempted to highlight “voting irregularities” that occurred the last time he faced Rangel in 2012. That race ended in a disputed vote count and legal battle that eventually saw Rangel win by a little over 1,000 votes. This time around, Espaillat had a legal team in place on election day.
“We were very prepared,” a source close to Espaillat told Business Insider. “We did have issues. We did correct them in real time. We had a whole robust legal protection effort. We had attorneys deployed at poll sites.”
That fight seemed set to continue even after Rangel declared victory at his election night party Tuesday.
Rangel has spent more than four decades in Congress. However, in 2012 his district was redrawn adding heavily Latino neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan and The Bronx to his longtime stronghold in the African-American neighbourhood of Harlem. This change, along with a growing white population in the area threatened Rangel’s base of support.
If elected, Espaillat would be the first member of the House of Representatives to hail from the Dominican Republic. Espaillat’s near defeat of Rangel two years ago was widely attributed to his Latino roots and the congressman’s 2010 censure for House ethics rules violations.
This year, Espaillat seemed even more formidable with greater name recognition, financial resources, and more endorsements from local leaders.
The pioneering nature of his candidacy was on display at Espaillat’s election night party at the 809 Bar & Grill in Upper Manhattan’s Inwood neighbourhood. Outside the bar, a truck covered with posters and speakers blared a merengue song touting his campaign.
“We’re voting, this Tuesday for Adriano Espaillat,” the lyrics declared in Spanish. “The 24th is the day. … Day of history.”
Inside Espaillat’s bash, supporters cheered as television screens displayed early returns that showed Espaillat ahead of Rangel.
“It breaks barriers and ceilings,” New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Puerto Rican politician who endorsed Espaillat, told Business Insider at the event. “It shows our children that this is something that can be done.”
Shortly after 11 p.m., Espaillat jumped on the truck to address the crowd. Polls closed at 9 and, by the time Espaillat spoke, nearly 90% of votes had returned and Rangel had a slim, but solid lead. Still, after thanking his family and supporters, Espaillat did not concede.
“We have reviewed the results as they continue to come in and we feel this race is too close to call,” he said.
Espaillat reiterated his comments in Spanish citing specific areas where votes had not yet been counted including the heavily Latino neighbourhood of Inwood and parts of The Bronx and Hamilton Heights.
He made his next statement in both Spanish and English for emphasis.
“El voto de cada votante se debe contado,” Espaillat said. “Every vote must be counted.”
After his speech, Espaillat stepped off the truck and into a waiting car that sped him away from the event. Business Insider briefly caught up to him before he drove off and asked if he expected his lawyers would go to court over the vote count as they did in 2012.
“We’re not speaking about any of that stuff,” said Espaillat.
By the end of the night, things looked grim for Espaillat and Rangel had made a victory speech. As of this writing, according to WNYC radio, Rangel has about a 3.8% lead with 99.6% of precincts reporting. Still, another source close to Espaillat told Business Insider they hoped paper affidavit ballots might improve his fortunes. They also said he would “probably” take the race to court once again. However, the source was not optimistic.
“But we’re obviously not very enthusiastic tonight,” they said.
(Additional reporting by Julia Cannon)