Keys to Success
Fittingly for the “Lion of Harlem,” Rangel earned the lion’s share of endorsements from New York’s political establishment. A supermajority of elected officials, including those of Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage, recognized the good work Rangel had done in New York and backed him. Some of Harlem’s elected officials may have felt inclined to support the congressman because so many of them have aspirations to succeed him when he retires, and his support would go a long way toward achieving it.
Thus, despite demographic shifts, all of East Harlem’s elected officials endorsed the Congressman. Other endorsements included those of Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, plus more than a dozen Democratic clubs. He also received the endorsement of Assemblyman Guillermo Linares, the nation’s second ever Dominican elected official.
The congressman’s coalition also benefited from organized labor. Espaillat did get the endorsements of two unions: the Correctional Officers’ Benevolent Association and, more importantly, the Transport Workers Union. However, a laundry list of labor unions remembered that the congressman had been advocating for them for decades and lent their help to them. Rangel’s labor union endorsements included the AFL-CIO, the teachers union, SEIU 1199, the Teamsters, and the firefighters union. While endorsements from well-respected politicians do look nice on campaign literature, the unions were able to lend material support in the form of turning out their members to hit the streets to campaign.
Additionally, Espaillat’s base was more divided than it appeared on the surface. Although Latinos are a majority in the new district, it is split among Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and others. These communities, although very powerful, hardly constitute a unified voting bloc, a lesson the Puerto Rican former mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer learned the hard way in 2005.
As was the case in the presidential election and many other races that year, Super PACs proved ineffective. Out-of-state Super PACs had little knowledge of the district, and it showed: one Super PAC mailer urged Bronx voters to support Espaillat because he is from the Bronx, though in reality he was born in the Dominican Republic and now resides in Upper Manhattan.
Implications for the Future
As was the case with the presidential race, the congressman’s reelection emphasized the importance of inclusiveness: no cross-sections could be ignored or written off. This applied not only to racial and ethnic groups, but also to age ranges. The Rangel campaign learned the latter the hard way when Clyde Williams managed to gain the support of young professionals.
To that extent, the campaign also highlighted the need to nurture young talent. The congressman’s race proved that sophisticated technology and social media are no substitute for old-fashioned retail politicking, at least for now.
Other than voter files and a modest social media presence, the campaign was focused on face-to-face interactions. These were essential, given the sizeable bloc of technologically illiterate seniors in the district that includes the congressman himself. As a result, Rangel often made multiple appearances a day, yet only filmed one YouTube video over the course of the entire campaign.
The Congressman’s reelection reminded everyone that it’s voters who decide on Election Day, not the media or Texas-based Super PACs. All the mailers and salacious coverage become irrelevant when someone can speak face-to-face with a candidate and learn the real story.
With this campaign, we also demonstrated that, although there is something to be said for bringing new blood into the political dialogue, experience and seniority still matter. Moreover, the next generation can still contribute even if they may not be the face of the campaign.
Finally, the congressman’s continued support shows that for decades he has been and continues to be an effective, accomplished legislator who has benefitted Upper Manhattan and deserved reelection, just as his new district deserved a powerful legislator who will fight for it. My friend Charlie Rangel is indeed the “Lion of Harlem,” and no trumped up scandal can take that away from him.
Bill Lynch is founder and chairman of Bill Lynch and Associates, LLC and a longtime advisor to Rep. Charles Rangel.