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Espaillat didn't mention it, but Rucker, as it happens, was also an outspoken supporter of Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the barrier-breaking congressman and Harlem institution who Rangel later toppled in an Espaillat-like act of presumption.
When Powell was stripped of his chairmanship in 1967, Rucker helped bus 5,000 Harlem supporters (by his count) to Washington to protest Powell's treatment as racist and unfair.
"The seeds for violence and racial hatred have been sown," Rucker told a reporter. "We may see rioting such as never has been seen in this country before."
When Powell's was threatened with arrest upon his return to Harlem, for an unpaid slander settlement, Rucker said Harlem "was a fortress" for Powell, who he called "the most admired black man in the nation today" and "the personification of the new black man in the United States."
Three years later, Rangel beat Powell in the Democratic primary.
Rangel had capitalized on a redrawn district that diluted Powell's historic Harlem power base and included more white voters from the Upper West Side, and he pressed the point that Powell had become an absentee congressman who wasn't present in the district, and was chronically missing votes in Washington.
The echoes of that in this year's race are unmistakable, though the analogy isn't perfect.
A back injury forced Rangel to miss nearly 150 votes this spring, but prior to that he was one of Washington's most reliable voters. And while Powell, by the end, was spending most of his time on the island of Bimini, Rangel (who famously owns a villa in the Dominican Republic) prides himself on his heavy presence in the district.
Rangel's most glaring liability, the ethics charges that led to his censure and the loss of his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee, has largely faded from the headlines, and his supporters say Rangel won a district-wide referendum on that issue in 2010, when he took 51 percent of the primary vote, even as the allegations were swirling around him.
And he and Espaillat have long enjoyed a mutually supportive relationship, with Rangel contributing to the senator's campaigns and political club, and Espaillat offering some timely words of support.
In 2010, Espaillat rallied to Rangel's defense when the New York Post reported, on the morning of the Dominican Day Parade, that the congressman was steering millions of dollars to Alianza Dominicana, a Dominican services nonprofit with questionable bookkeeping. (The group's executive director, Moises Perez, was recently hired to manage Rangel's campaign.)
Rangel, in turn, said Espaillat is "a good man and he’s done a lot of good work for the community.”
A polling call received by a person who lives in the district asked about Rangel's perceived negatives, but also sounded as if Espaillat might be polling his own negatives, including the senator's ties to dysfunctional Albany, his contributions to a nonprofit that hired people close to him, and his soured relationship with convicted former councilman Miguel Martinez, who was once a protege of Espaillat's.
(A spokesman for Espaillat declined to confirm the poll was conducted by the campaign.)
But a source familiar with Rangel's campaign said they were unlikely to go negative against the senator.
So for now at least, both sides seem content to wage the campaign on whether Rangel has outserved his effectiveness, and to keep the criticisms indirect, if perfectly clear.
"I've heard the seniority [argument], but Democrats are not in power," Espaillat said. "My opponent doesn't chair a committee. The bottom line is that Congress is not functioning. There are significant number of members that are there who are there for the power and not for the people. I think that this is an opportunity for President Obama to surround himself with a new guard, a new young, sharp, smart, aggressive Democratic team of young Turks that will take on the Tea Party and the Republicans."
ESPAILLAT BILLS HIMSELF, IN THIS WAY, AS PART of "the new face of New York," along with Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who is running for Ed Towns' newly open seat in Brooklyn, and Assemblywoman Grace Meng, who has the county establishment's blessing for an open seat in Queens.
Espaillat and Rangel don't differ much on policy—they're both proud liberals who are left of the national party on most issues—but Espaillat argues that a new voice could help push the Democratic agenda, particularly the Dream Act that has stalled in the Republican House.
But, like the national bill, New York's version of the Dream Act is currently stalled in the State Senate, though Espaillat argued that wasn't a sign of his effectiveness. He said the current bill was only just now coming up for debate, and that he helped pass a bill ten years ago to provide in-state tuition for undocumented students, which forms the core of the federal Dream Act. (The Dream bill stalled in New York's Republican Senate would help provide additional scholarships to those students.)
Espaillat said the real failure in Congress was not passing the bill when Democrats held the House, and that Democrats are letting the Tea Party "push around" the president.
"He was pushed around even when he couldn't get the DREAM Act even with a Democratic majority in Congress," he said. "He got pushed around in his health care reform. It got diluted and watered down to a degree that now Republicans and Democrats don't like it. He's being pushed around on a host of issues that are of critical importance to communities across the nation. And he needs a team of new young unafraid Democratic voices to defend his agenda."
The old ones, belonging to people like Charlie Rangel, weren't getting it done anymore.
"What can you do in two years that you haven't been able to do in 42 years?" he said. "What can you accomplish in two more years that you haven't been able to in 42, nearly half a century?"