NEW YORK—As the November congressional elections wind up, New York state Sen. Adriano Espaillat announced a bid to unseat Rep. Charles Rangel in New York’s 13th District in the House of Representatives this year.
Espaillat ran against Rangel during the last election, losing by a thin margin. Rangel has represented Harlem and adjoining districts for more than four decades.
Flanked by a rowdy group of supporters brandishing “Adriano Espaillat” signs and chanting slogans in Spanish, Espaillat officially announced his bid for Congress in the ornately gilded lobby of the United Palace Theater in Washington Heights Thursday.
“We build bridges, but we don’t close any lanes,” he joked as he took the stand, referring to the politically motivated traffic backup on the George Washington Bridge in January.
Espaillat is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic. He came to the United States as a child knowing only Spanish and recalls sitting in the back of a classroom at P.S. 28 not understanding what his teacher was saying. Lacking bilingual education in school, he said he learned English by reading magazines and watching movies.
“Back in the day when I came here, it was a land of opportunity. Back on the island where I grew up, they said ‘New York is paved with streets of gold.’ And we all came here searching for the dreams, and now it’s a struggle. Sometimes it turns into a nightmare,” he said.
As a member of Congress he promised to do what he had done at the state level and work for immigration reform, affordable housing, and jobs for young people.
If he won, he would be representing a district covering Inwood, Washington Heights, Marble Hill, Morningside Heights, part of the South Bronx, East Harlem, and Harlem. Being largely Hispanic, Espaillat shares two important characteristics with the district: his command of Spanish and the fact that he grew up there.
Espaillat said that despite having lost to Rangel in the last election, he thinks enough people want change in the House that his chances of winning are good.
Holly Kellum is a special correspondent in New York.