Oh Harlem, what a place. There's nothing like walking through Marcus Garvey park, where I linger to the rhythm of the Saturday drum circle, and then over to listen to the jazzy brass band outside the House of Prayer for All People by 125th and Fredrick Douglas Blvd. I am in NYC to cover the primary on Tuesday for the seat held by Charlie Rangel for the past 22 terms, now the 13th CD. It feels like an open primary. Charlie Rangel has never had as difficult a re-election prospect as this is turning out -- and with about 90 percent sureness I doubt Rangel survives. So I spent much of the day walking around Harlem to take a look at the on-the-ground preparations by the campaigns for Tuesday's election, visiting their HQ's, listening to residents, and gauging the campaign visibility.
Central Harlem is still predominantly a black population, but the greater Harlem population, which comprises more than half of the CD, has dropped in recent years to about 40 percent, as the influx of Asian, Hispanic and white population increases. The 13th CD stretches from Harlem into the Bronx. The total population is about 12 percent white, 27 percent black, 55 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Asian and 2 percent other.
There used to be just two major candidates in this contest. The incumbent, Charlie Rangel versus the State Senator, Mariano Espaillat. However, upstart Clyde Williams has shown momentum as of late, and has a Super PAC working alongside his campaign efforts. As the former political director of the DNC under Tim Kaine & President Obama, one has to conclude that Williams knows identity groups and the Democratic Party constituencies, and how DC works, pretty well. You may not have heard of Clyde Williams, but every single Democrat you know of that has any sort of power in the Democratic Party knows him. He's an ultimate insider of the establishment. He's best known in Harlem as having served in the Clinton administration, and coordinating his post-presidential activities in Harlem.
The feel of Williams campaign is a lot like Obama's, with youthful energy working in his campaign HQ's, and the endorsement of the endorsement of the New York Times and New York Daily News. The latter validations, alongside the third-party super PAC influx of support, has shaken up the script. It's difficult to predict how much of an effect that will have on the final outcome, but his post-racial message has a NYT's editorial-like appeal:
"The whole thing about 'Every Latino's going to vote for Espaillat,' I know it's not true," he said, noting that he had considerable support among the Puerto Rican community in East Harlem.
"I think part of the reason why it's been quote-unquote determined a two-person race is because people want to play the black and brown issue," he said. "Espaillat's Latino, Charlie's the incumbent, I get that. But again, the people decide who becomes the representative."
The pro-Williams Super PAC has put at least $100K through the Campaign for our Future, to send out pro-WIlliams mailers that oppose Rangel. Here's his winning strategy:
Mr. Williams's campaign manager, Rakim Brooks, said he believed the campaign would be able to put together a winning coalition of new residents, older residents who are disillusioned with Mr. Rangel, Puerto Ricans and residents of the mostly white enclave of Hudson Heights.
If he were just running against Rangel, that might be enough for Williams in Harlem, but it's not likely to overcome the advantage Espaillat has with the entire CD. But, alongside Espaillat working Harlem, and another lower-tier candidate from Central Harlem, Craig Schley ( a former Rangel staffer whom I noticed had quite a few signs in the windows of Harlem small businesses), there's potential (maybe its even likely) that Rangel doesn't even win a majority of central Harlem, or a plurality of greater Harlem, which would be a fitting end to his undignified era in Congress.
I blogged an intro to Charlie Rangel re-election hopes on HuffPo, "It's Time to Stay Home," a few days ago, and will follow that up with another post on the sorry state of his desperate campaign. I also plan to have a post from Espaillat's stronghold in the Bronx. Right now I'd wager that Espaillat wins comfortably by double-digits, and that Williams makes it into double-digits.
Jerome Armstrong is a Senior Advisor for the Campaign for Primary Accountability. He is the author of Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics.