2:55 pm Oct. 31, 20112
A new face with ties to Presidents Obama and Clinton is emerging in the crowded field to replace 81-year-old Charlie Rangel in Harlem.
Clyde Williams "has the makings of a formidable challenger given his political background with two presidents," Ray Hernandez wrote today in the New York Times, noting Williams was Clinton's deputy chief of staff in the agriculture department and in Obama's choice to be political director at the Democratic National Committee.
Williams also help set up a small-business initiative in Harlem when he worked for Clinton, and says he has kept a residency in the district for years.
But Williams' connections to Washington may be as much of a problem as an asset.
The "association with Washington D.C. and the perception that he is not really a Harlem person" is a "huge hurdle," said Basil Smikle, a Democrat, who, like Williams, has ties to Clinton, and who ran as an outsider in an unsuccessful primary challenger to incumbent state senator Bill Perkins of Harlem. "He has to overcome it."
Smikle cautioned against reading Williams' candidacy as a signal from either Obama or Clinton about Rangel.
"I know Clyde a little bit," said Smikle. "He's a really smart guy."
Smikle also said, "His interest in running is clearly his own" and "not a grand scheme to get congressman Rangel out."
Williams, like Rangel, will find a crowded field of opponents if he runs.
Vince Morgan, a former Rangel staffer and small-business entrepreneur who ran against Rangel in the last election and is planning to run again, questioned Williams' ties to the district.
"I think Clyde is severely out of touch with the people," said Morgan. "I worked with him when he was with Bill Clinton and I was with Rangel."
Morgan, in an interview this afternoon, said Williams "lived here for only a couple of years, not since 2001," and that Williams has "been in Washington."
Morgan said Williams was running for Congress as a "fallback" position, and that Williams was a failure at the D.N.C.
Morgan repeatedly referred to Williams as a candidate whose campaign strategy is to have "fancy cocktail parties" rather than go door-knocking and meet the voters, which Morgan said he does regularly (including for four hours this morning).
Other candidates who have looked at the race previously, and may do so again, include Joyce Johnson, whom the New York Times endorsed; Assemblyman Keith Wright, the chairman of the Manhattan Democratic organization, who is close to Rangel and could be a leading candidate to replace him should Rangel step down or not seek re-election, as is often rumored to be the case; Adriano Espaillat, a newly elected state senator who could appeal to the growing Hispanic population in the district, depending on what happens with redistricting; and Adam Clayton Powell IV, the former assemblyman and the son of the legendary congressman whom Rangel unseated 40 years ago, who has run and lost against Rangel twice in the past.
Which leads to probably the other big factors shaping the race (beside whether Rangel is on the ballot):
The demographics of the 15th congressional district have changed dramatically over the years. It's gotten more affluent and more racially diverse. Also, the New York legislature is set to move up the date for primary races from September to August or June, reducing the time a challenger would have to establish his or her operation.