Democrat Incumbent U.S. Representative Charles Rangel has been in Congress for 30-eight years and has been a popular political figure in Harlem, even after being found guilty of 13 of 15 ethics charges in 2010 and being censured by the House. Do you believe it is possible for him to lose his primary election in 2012?
It is very difficult for a challenger to unseat an incumbent in American politics. The odds are stacked against a challenger. It is very daunting to raise campaign money to challenge an incumbent.
Challengers most usually cannot overcome the name recognition, unequal press coverage, numerous political connections, and entrenched campaign money donor advantages of an incumbent politician.
After each census, completed nationally every 10 years, congressional districts can be lost or added with a state’s population changes. In a redistricting cycle some districts are also redrawn.
In a redistricting cycle, the odds of a loss for an incumbent in a primary election can increase due to the possibility of incumbents facing each other in a primary, and some incumbents may be new to constituents in their new district.
Another factor recently may be a more meaningful and active than usual anti-incumbent electorate mood. We saw this in 2010, and it seems to be continuing in 2012 to some degree. At only 10% approval, the most recent Gallop congressional approval rating poll, conducted February 2-5, 2012, reflected the lowest rating in Gallop history since they began polling congressional approval in 1974.
A March 8, 2012 New York Times article, titled Super PAC Increasing Congress’s Sense of Insecurity, detailed the anti-incumbent mood and the new anti-incumbent political action committee (PAC) Campaign for Primary Accountability’s (CPA) possible impact on incumbents.
The Campaign for Primary Accountability, a nonpartisan anti-incumbent PAC based out of Houston is looking to help incumbent challengers in both Democrat and Republican primary races. They note on their website, “Between 2002-2008, more incumbents died in office than lost Primary elections.” They ask that people join them, “because nothing will change until we change.”
With their equaliser Campaign, CPA summarizes, “Our goal is to bring true competition to our electoral process, to give voters real information about their choices, and to restore fair, not fixed, elections.
So far in 2012, key swing states have already seen some incumbent’s fall in their congressional primary bids – Republican Schmidt and Democrat Kucinich in Ohio and Democrat Holden in Pennsylvania to name a few. Even powerful Republican Senator Lugar lost his primary election in Indiana.
One challenger to New York’s Representative Rangel is a young, yet experienced community leader named Craig Schley. He hopes the new blood momentum will continue in New York’s District 13, formerly District 15 before the redistricting cycle.
While Schley has on occasion felt a sense of being told to “get to the back of the line and wait your turn.” by current black civil rights leaders, he is moving forward in the uphill battle to defeat Rangel. He notes, “While it is compelling to write about this, I think there are other issues more relevant to this race.”
He continues, “After 40 years of Rangel, black male unemployment exceeds 50%, and older residents who lived here all their lives are no longer able to afford living in their homes. These are the new realities that Rangel is not addressing or to which he is just oblivious.”
Schley sued the city to protect local business owners and residents. He has fought the system from the outside. “I realise the failure of leadership from those presently in office – Rangel and Espaillat. I am running to fill this void.”
He is intelligent and passionate about fixing problems, especially root problems like education and unemployment. His own life story is a great example and given him an understanding of workable solutions.
He was a firefighter in Atlanta before moving to New York in 1990. He learned a trade and became an electrician. With these skills, he paid for his own tuition to New York University.
Schley explains, “I want to see an emphasis placed on teaching the trades to lower skilled workers who don’t have access or the desire to go to college so they can still achieve the American dream. This alone would help the employment situation. This is the ‘new’ thinking Rangel is incapable of, but which will profoundly impact the district.”
Schley offers, “Rangel was a true civil rights leader, but now that we have a black president, the realities have changed. Yet, Rangel is still operating under an outdated set of realities. The community is suffering as a result. To us, this is a far more relevant story. It is also one that matters in every other urban centre, but to us, District 13 is our focus.”
In what some might call ironic, Schley served as an intern in 2003 for Rangel.
New York District 13 Democrat primary candidate Craig Schley shares his community insights and 21st Century realities.
BKH: Has there been any major changes in the demographics of NY13, formerly NY15, with the political redistricting?
CS: The district has undergone fundamental demographic changes. The Hispanic-American community was able to grow larger in size, while the White-American community is decreasing in numbers. I was able to unify a large number of Hispanic endorsements within the district, and I am grateful for their support and their faith in me to bring progress to NY13.
BKH: What are the main differences in the challenges of the 20th Century, the times of the 1960’s civil rights movement, to the challenges of today in the 21st Century?
CS: The challenges have developed from claiming basic rights in the 60s to benefiting from having those rights today. For example, while it’s nice to not be discriminated against at work, unemployment is higher today than in the 60s.
In order to guarantee this necessary progress for our district, we require new leadership. The incumbent is not able to face the new challenges and serving the urgent needs of the community.
As Dr. Manning Marable, professor for African-American history at Columbia University so rightfully states, today’s issues are much different. They are mass unemployment, mass incarceration, and mass disenfranchisement. Charles Rangel has not been addressing these issues.
BKH: What is the balance to respect the message of the civil rights leaders of the 1960’s and yet move forward to acknowledge the times and challenges have changed in 2012?
CS: I obviously respect the 1960’s civil rights leaders since they paved the way for me being able to run for Congress today. I also acknowledge Charles Rangel’s achievements during these important times for the African-American community.
The only problem is that the issues have changed, but the leadership’s thinking has not. We are in dire need to adjust legislation in order to address the urgent problems that are facing the district – the creation of jobs, the stabilisation of businesses in the district, targeted-income housing in order to stop displacement, and the education of our future generations.
BKH: Do you live and work in the NY13 district?
CS: I do. I have been involved in the district since 1990, the year I moved here and founded the human rights organisation “Vote People For Change” (VPFC) designed to help the residents of this community. As Executive Director of VPFC, I fought against the re-zoning proposal of 125th Street, arguing that the city “had not sought the input of the actual community” when it put together its proposal.
I also made the argument that the current proposal does not adequately protect or serve the interest of the local community or the historic character of the commercial district.
With my VOTE People research team, I found a century-old clause in the City Charter that could slow the rezoning process. The clause says that if the owners of at least 20% of the land either adjacent to or across from the area being rezoned disapprove of the development, 75% – not a simple majority of the Council must approve the rezoning for the process to continue.
My legal involvement saved about 70 businesses on 125th street in the end.
BKH: From your day-to-day interaction with the NY13 community, what do the residents tell you they care about most?
CS: Residents of the 13th district, and I am talking about African-Americans, Latinos and Whites, are concerned with jobs and housing they can afford. These are issues that are essential to my platform.
BKH: What do the NY13 community business owners care about most?
CS: Today I know many former shopkeepers around 125th Street who are now street vendors. Unfortunately the cost of doing business became so onerous that they could no longer hold on to their storefronts.
Big banks have taken over these spaces to the detriment of the local community that lost a hair dresser, an ethnic restaurant or a grocer. We must protect and encourage local business, often the biggest job creators, through better zoning ordinances.
I have already sued the city on behalf of hundreds of local businesses and impacted legislation. But, as long as Rangel accepts over one million dollars from the real estate industry, local businesses will be at a disadvantage.
BKH: Are Harlem business owners more conservative than workers on the “tax the rich” solution to raising government revenue?
CS: I am not a friend of ideologies, but practical solutions. New York City is a very diverse city, home to more billionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world.
And sometimes I believe that the privileged in this country have forgotten that wealth comes with an obligation. An obligation to make this society a better one, by creating access to education, creating jobs and giving business opportunities, which ultimately serves their interests as well.
So to me this is a practical issue calling for sensible solutions. If we invest our tax dollars wisely, we all benefit. One example of a wise investment is to train lower-skilled workers in the trades, following the philosophy that if you teach someone to fish, they will become self sufficient.
BKH: Why are blacks not more involved in the Occupy Movement?
CS: If you work multiple jobs a day, without making a significant income; or you have no job at all, because education is unaffordable; if you can’t place your children in good schools, because they are too expensive, therefore inaccessible; and you have to worry about where you are going to live within the near future, because rents are sky-high – you simply have other problems.
Unfortunately, the present leadership has ignored this community’s problem, so they cannot even begin to relate to the Occupy Movement’s concerns about being saddled with too much college debt or the like.
BKH: Does the media portray what is happening on-the-ground in the black community accurately?
CS: Some journalists do a great job, some don’t. The African-American community in the 13th district has significant problems that were able to develop and manifest themselves over the past 40 years. Dr. Manning Marable is someone who has accurately reported on the black community. In addition to the African-American community, my district includes many other races and ethnicities that need help too.
BKH: What are the top three challenges in the 21st Century Harlem?
CS: First, we need jobs. Second, we have to make sure that workers have the right skill-sets applicable to the new challenges the 21st Century. Third, we need housing that is affordable for Harlem’s population.
BKH: What are the types of meaningful solutions you propose for these challenges?
CS: I want to make sure that it is more affordable for businesses to get established in the 13th district, hence I sued the city. Now I want to put legislation in place that allows businesses to flourish.
I believe that I am a great example of what can be possible, given the opportunity. I learned a trade by becoming an electrician. This allowed me to pay my way through NYU. It is important that children have the opportunity to learn a trade, since not everyone can afford higher education or wants to go to college.
I also want to make sure that the funds the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is providing are being used appropriately. In the past, incumbent Charles Rangel has allowed HUD funds to assist his own needs at the expense of the very residents who live in our district today.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel was soliciting donations from corporations with business interests before his panel, hoping to raise $30 million for a new academic centre that will house his papers when he retires.
The congressman had corralled more federal money as well, securing two HUD grants totaling $690,500 to help renovate the college-owned Harlem brownstone that will house the centre.
I will ensure that HUD monies are used for what they should be, so residents can continue to live in their own neighborhoods.
BKH: What are the funding solutions for your proposals?
CS: Sadly there already is much funding out there that is just being poorly allocated as I noted. But also, something as simple as funding training in the trades will allow more people to seek better employment. This allows them to get off the public dole and contribute to our tax base.
Many of my proposals will pay for themselves in this way.
BKH: What do the people of NY13 care about most in their elected representative to Congress?
CS: People in my community and within the entire district want to be able to sustain themselves. They are looking for real leadership and representatives that provide realistic solutions to their problems.
BKH: Why do you think D.C. and Congress are so dysfunctional right now in general?
CS: In my opinion, the partisanship in Washington and Congress contributes to their dysfunction. I have been cross-endorsed by both, the Democratic and the Republican Party.
With a broad consensus like this I will be able to heal the partisan divide in NY13. Both parties understand that I am reaching out to all voters, which is obviously crucial to win this district over and turn it around.
BKH: What are your proposed solutions?
CS: They key lies in overcoming partisanship and truly serving our voters. I have already begun this process by working with both parties in my district.
BKH: What can new leadership in Congress bring to NY13 – you as a new Congressman for them in particular?
CS: I can provide solutions to problems the incumbent has been neglecting. We can create prosperity and well-being for all the people in the district.
As I mentioned, I’m a living example of how we can turn this district around. My story can translate easily to everyone living here.
The key to prosperity is education. I want to support and fix public education in the district as well as promote charter schools. Education programs have to be in place to promote different trades as well. This will help reign in unemployment.
BKH: Why do so many politicians get elected to Congress and then end up serving themselves more than their constituents?
CS: It is exactly the frustration over these types of politicians that made me run for Congress. I sued the city in order to being able to help my fellow residents when I was not even running for office. I am standing for real public service rather than self-service!
BKH: What is the new approach needed to once again have those in Congress represent the values and desire of their constituents over party loyalty?
CS: We a need an approach of real public service, which includes settling of partisanship in Congress and Washington. And we need fresh ideas for the district that will promote prosperity and well-being for everyone.
BKH: What are the top three qualities you bring to representing NY13 in Congress that make you a better choice than Charles Rangel in the Democratic primary?
CS: I understand today’s problems better than our present leaders. I bring a commitment to this community that I demonstrated as an outsider when I sued the city before I even thought of running for office. I am a living example of what is possible and hope to inspire the next generation.
BKH: You embody what is possible in America even for those that started with few, if any, advantages in life. What advice do you give the children of Harlem in pursuing their dreams?
CS: Keep a positive attitude, embrace your chances when you see them, work hard to achieve the goals you set for yourself, and follow role-models you can trust and be critical, yet open minded.
BKH: You can contact and support Craig Schley by going to his congressional candidate website.
Many frustrated voters call for term limits on Congress. Voting incumbents out in primary elections is the people’s voice in enacting term limits for now.
“Politics as usual” in Washington will start to really change when partisanship, to the point of endless gridlock with each party pointing blame at the other and talking to media cameras with hyper-partisanship rhetoric, is no longer acceptable to voters.
Incumbent Washington politicians will take notice for sure when voters reward those that run for office speak and act in ways that promote progress in solution formulation instead of negative campaigning and self serving governing.
When a member of Congress is sent to Washington to speak for those that elected them, and they become out-of-touch with their constituents and community, or even the realities of the current century we are in, it is the responsibility of the community to replace them.
When a politician begins to only serve themselves, they should no longer be elected to a position to serve their community by the community. When power corrupts, as it unfortunately so often does, voting out an incumbent must be the only acceptable action by voters.
Voters must also change their behaviour as a part of any real change in “politics as usual.” It is the only way for a community, and voters, to take back control in ensuring meaningful representation in Washington.
Anger and words are not enough. Actions speak louder than words. Voting action keeps all incumbents in check on who works for whom.
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