Erstwhile Dominican rivals Linares and Espaillat do an uneasy endorsement dance

Adriano Espaillat, at the Barack Obama Democratic Club. (Reid Pillifant)
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At a candidates forum and endorsement meeting of the Barack Obama Democratic Club last night, Assemblyman Guillermo Linares didn't mention State Senator Adriano Espaillat by name.

For two decades, the two Dominican trailblazers have jockeyed for support in the immigrant community of northern Manhattan; Linares was the first Dominican-American elected to office in 1991, and Espaillat became the first Dominican to serve in Albany in 1996, with a number of proxy battles before and since.

Now, the two are engaged in a quiet dance over who should succeed Espaillat, who is vacating his Senate seat to run for Congress against Charlie Rangel, and whether Linares, who won Espaillat's Assembly seat in 2010, will support the senator's bid to become the first Dominican congressman.

"I'm now making my rounds consulting to see if I would run for state senate," said Linares, who was in something of an awkward spot last night, because Espaillat has already signaled his support for the Obama Club's founder, Mark Levine. Levine, who moderated the forum, ran against Espaillat in 2010, but now appears on the senator's petitions.

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Linares previously ran for the seat in 2002, after the district was redrawn to favor the growing Latino population, but lost to then-state senator Eric Schneiderman, who won the attorney general's race in 2010.

Linares touted his long ties to the district, and the livery cab legislation he helped passed in the Assembly, along with his work on the New York DREAM Act, which Espaillat, who was sitting in the second row, has made a core of his congressional campaign, even though the bill hasn't passed the state senate.

"This year I am the prime sponsor in the Assembly—in the Senate, Bill Perkins is the prime sponsor—of the New York Dream Act," Linares said. "This is a piece of legislation that I hope will pass, with the support of the governor…and also the leadership in both the Senate and the Assembly.

"It's going to be tough on the Senate side, but I hope we can make history, giving through the Dream Act an opportunity for young people to go to college."

Espaillat is banking, in large part, on the demographic advantages in the new congressional district, which emerged from a court-ordered redistricting process with an augmented Latino population. But it's not clear whether the community with unite behind Espaillat, with reports that some in the Dominican community, and even some members of his exploratory committee, preferring to back the longtime incumbent.

Espaillat's support for Levine over Linares could complicate things. Linares may have been referring to the departing senator's leadership at the end of his remarks—or his own leadership, it was hard to tell—when he closed by reminding the crowd he is "seriously considering" another run for state senate.

"With the senator deciding to move on and run for Congress, I believe it's important to keep the type of leadership that has experience, that has vision, and commitment to this community—serving as I have done now for 2 years—in the Senate," he said. 

Espaillat clapped politely.