Espaillat making preparations for war against Charlie Rangel

Adriano Espaillat. (Azi Paybarah via flickr)
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Adriano Espaillat is preparing for nuclear war with Charlie Rangel. The only question is whether he'll push the button.

A spokesman for State Senator Adriano Espaillat confirmed a report they are circulating petitions to get on the ballot and unseat the 21-term congressman, who is an iconic figure in black politics and founding member of the Black Congressional Caucus.

Rangel, 81, is currently suffering from back problems that forced him to miss votes in Congress. He's also drawn a number of challengers this year, including former aide Vince Morgan, businesswoman Joyce Johnson, and, possibly, presidential aide Clyde Williams.

Rangel easily won re-election in 2010 after he was sanctioned by the House for violating a dozen ethics rules. At the time, President Obama indicated his preference that Rangel retire rather than fight through an ethics investigation and re-election campaign, saying in a television inteview that the congressman should end his career "with dignity."

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This year, one of Rangel's top aide has reached out to a rival's fund-raisers, asking if they were, indeed, helping to oust Rangel.

Espaillat had called for creating a majority-Latino congressional district next to Rangel's, and warned that if it didn't happen, there could be clash between Latinos and blacks. 

Speaking to a mostly black audience on 145th Street last weekend, Espaillat, who is Dominican, said, "They increased the Latino population in Charlie Rangel's existing district to 55 percent, basically setting the ground work of 20 years of nuclear political war."

Espaillat, as a sitting legislator, does not have to give up his State Senate seat to run for Congress because of the staggered timing of the primaries this year in New York. The congressional primary in New York this year is on June 26. The legislative primary election is in September. A candidate can run and lose the primary for Congress and still have time to get on the ballot for the legislative primary.

Espaillat still hasn't made his final decision about whether to run, Hunter Walker Colin Campbell reports.

One Harlem political consultant who asked not to be named lamented the prospect of a sitting Latino elected official challenging Rangel.

"We didn't have to get here," the consultant said. "We could have worked something out."