New York House: Rangel’s Last Stand

Jessica Taylor June 27, 2012 · 11:58 AM EDT

The rumors of Charlie Rangel’s demise were, once again, over-exaggerated., though the longtime Democratic congressman had to beat back a spirited challenge from state Sen. Adriano Espailliat, 46 percent to 39 percent.

Most Democratic observers expect this will be the last time the 82 year-old congressman will stand for re-election and believe he simply wanted to go out on his own terms.

It wasn’t Rangel’s past ethics problems after he was censured in 2010 that made him particularly vulnerable. The former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman picked up almost a quarter of new territory in redistricting, largely from heavily Hispanic and Dominican areas in the Bronx, transforming his district into a majority minority seat.

Rangel had also been hobbled lately by back problems, having sometimes to use a walker or cane. He’d missed some critical campaign events in the district in the race’s final days, leading some to wonder about the strength of his ground game, which most expected would save him in the low-turnout primary. But in the end, Rangel proved that he is able to get his base out to the polls, even in a June primary, a novelty to New Yorkers .

The Campaign for Primary Accountability had targeted Rangel, and some eyebrows were raised when former President Bill Clinton didn’t get involved here like he had for Rangel in the past. But one of Clinton’s former aides, Clyde Williams Jr., was also running and received 10 percent of the vote.

The state’s only other incumbent on the bubble on Tuesday, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, easily survived her primary challenge from New York City Councilman Erik Dilan. While Velazquez had picked up nearly 30 percent new territory, she was never considered particularly vulnerable. Dilan did have the backing of Brooklyn Democratic Chairman Vito Lopez, who has long been at odds with Velazquez.

In the open 8th District, late Democratic fears that controversial Councilman Charles Barron could upend Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries were unfounded, and Jeffries cruised to a nearly 50-point win to succeed retiring Rep. Edolphus Towns, who left in the face of a strong primary challenge from Jeffries. Towns endorsed Barron, a former Black Panther who had once brought African dictator Robert Mugabe to City Hall. Jeffries had the strong support of nearly all of the state’s establishment, and has been billed as a rising star to watch for Democrats.

In the open 6th District, Assemblywoman Grace Meng won her competitive primary with just over 50 percent of the vote and is poised to become the state’s first Asian-American female congresswoman. Meng had the backing of the Queens Democratic Party over Assemblyman Rory Lancman, who tried to get labor support and felt he’d been snubbed by Queens Democrats and party leader, Rep. Joe Crowley. But the congressman didn’t even back his cousin, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, in the race. Meng should easily win this fall.

While those all represent safe Democratic seats, New York may well feature the most competitive races for GOP incumbents, and Democrats got their favored candidate in two key races where they’re hoping to knock off GOP freshmen.

Former Clinton aide Sean Patrick Maloney earned the right to face Rep. Nan Hayworth (R), edging out cardiologist Richard Becker in the 18th District. Maloney proved to be an impressive fundraiser and this district got slightly more Democratic in redistricting, giving McCain just 47 percent. Hayworth will have a tough fight on her hands.

Similarly, in the 19th District attorney Julian Schreibman (D) won his primary and will run against Rep. Chris Gibson (R) in a very competitive general election. The Republican’s district got about three points better for Democrats.

For Republicans, former Erie County Executive Chris Collins won his primary in the 27th District over Iraq War veteran David Bellavia, 59 percent to 41 percent. Collins is a threat to Rep. Kathy Hochul (D), who finds herself now in the most Republican district in the state. But even many national and local Republicans are unenthused about Collins, and this one remains competitive even though it should be a more uphill climb for Democrats than it is.