Rangel staffs up for re-election race

Charles Rangel. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
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Rep. Charlie Rangel is assembling a team of experienced consultants, in advance of a potentially tough re-election campaign.

Rangel has hired Metropolitan Strategies, the consulting firm led by Neal Kwatra, an experienced labor operative, and James Freedland, who worked with Kwatra for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, to guide the overall strategy, messaging, and communications.

Rangel has also retained Mercury Public Affairs, to handle the campaign’s direct mail and polling.

And Phil Singer’s Marathon Strategies will oversee opposition research.

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The high-priced talent is a reminder Rangel could face a difficult race in 2014, with a potential re-match against State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who nearly beat the longtime congressman two years ago, and the possible entry of Michael Waldron, a top aide to the Rev. Al Sharpton.

The 83-year-old Harlem Democrat has survived a couple of tough re-elections since facing ethics sanctions in 2010 for violating House rules. Rangel’s 2012 campaign appeared to have been caught off guard by Espaillat’s strong showing, but eventually won re-election.

In 2010, Rangel was admonished by his colleagues for a House ethics committee investigation. President Barack Obama made it clear he thought it was time for the congressman to end his 40-year-career in Congress "with dignity."

Instead, Rangel handily defeated a weak field of candidates. (The New York Times  endorsed one of Rangel's rivals that year, Joyce Johnson. Two years later, when she ran again in another crowded field of challengers, the editorial page didn't even mention her, and endorsed Clyde Williams, a Democratic operative with lots of Washington credentials.)

In 2012, Espaillat pushed hard to have a Latino congressional district drawn uptown, saying a political "war" could break out if blacks and Hispanics had to fight over the same congressional seat. The judge who drew the maps for New York's congressional delegation seemed unmotivated by the argument, and Espaillat proceeded forward with his primary challenge against Rangel.

Though Rangel claimed victory on primary night, Espiallat later raised questions about the accuracy of the count, comparing it to Florida in 2000.

That led to a post-election public relations-campaign, before Espaillat dropped his court challenge and Rangel was ultimately declared the winner. Espaillat did not have to relinquish his State Senate seat to run in the June congressional primary, and Rangel has questioned whether Espaillat will renew his challenge if the state's primary dates are consolidated.

Also expected to enter the race is Michael Waldron, an influential pastor at First Corinthian Baptist Church and ally of Rev. Al Sharpton. Waldron endorsed Bill de Blasio in the 2013 mayor's race, with de Blasio speaking at length about the leadership Waldron has shown on social justice issues, and how he has a bright future ahead of him. The praise was noteworthy, considering Waldron's aspirations for public office were known at the time, and the praise came from from de Blasio, who, back in the early 1990s, managed Rangel's re-election campaign. 

A Rangel source said their recent hires shows they are in a new and more aggressive mode, compared to in prior elections.