Dueling rallies between Rangel and Espaillat on a Dominican-American theme

Charlie Rangel and Larry Seabrook. (Dan Rosenblum)
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A month before the voters in Charlie Rangel's district vote in a primary that pits him against (among others) State Senator Adriano Espaillat, the two candidates held competing Washington Heights rallies six blocks away from each other.

Rangel’s event was meant to showcase his support from Assemblyman Guillermo Linares, and to endorse Linares' bid to take over Espaillat's Senate seat. Linares was one of the first Dominican-Americans to win elected office.

Espaillat, who hopes to become America's first Dominican-American congressman, was accepting neighborhood support from the "Quisqueyanos," or the area's Dominican population.

Before a scheduled noon rally at a corner on Broadway, a small wooden podium with a “Re-elect Rangel for Congress” sign was being decorated with microphones and cameras. A modified flatbed truck bedecked with American flags was parked across Broadway, blasting Dominican music with a picture of Espaillat standing in front of the U.S. Capitol. Boards with Espaillat's name were posted around the intersection.

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“This is just to energize the people,” said one of the Espaillat supporters handing out fliers.

One minute before the scheduled start of the rally, the truck pulled north and 23 minutes later, Rangel, Linares and neighborhood religious leaders walked from a nearby Baptist church up to the podium. Rangel was introduced as “El léon de Congreso, the lion of Congress.”

Explaining the cross-endorsement this afternoon, Rangel said that during a meeting with Linares earlier, local religious leaders asked them not to fight each other but instead “the enemies” of the community.

“I was able to lean over and whisper, 'This is so natural for the two of us'," Rangel said. "And so it may be called a cross-endorsement, but the records will always show that if we ever have a disagreement nobody would ever know it, because we knew our leaders take care of differences of opinion.”

Espaillat is the most well-established of three challengers in Rangel's seat, which now has a majority of Latino voters after redistricting. 

If Espaillat beats Rangel in June, there would be an open State Senate seat, and there was some speculation that Linares could endorse Espaillat, but after Espaillat seemed instead more likely to endorse someone like district leader Mark Levine, Assemblyman Guillermo Linares set eyes on Espaillat's job, ostensibly to better guide the Dream Act in the Senate. 

It’s the latest challenge between the two, who have been jockeying for position since Linares won against Espaillat in a City Council race 21 years ago.  

"Since the first day I was elected to office in 1991, Charlie Rangel has always been my partner in government, helping get results for our community," said Linares. "But Charlie Rangel was there for us long before there were any Dominicans in the City Council or the State Assembly or the State Senate."

After the rally, Rangel then walked with supporters to a waiting car and an Espaillat supporter covertly handed out fliers announcing the event six blocks north. 

There, in front of the El Presidente Deli, Espaillat was crowded in among over a hundred supporters and introduced by a number of local business owners and community leaders, including Dominican-born councilman Ydanis Rodriguez. Nearly all of the remarks were in Spanish, as one criticized Linares’ decision as a Councilman in 1995 to support the then-unpopular opening of a Pathmark, and supporters booed after a mention of Linares' endorsement of Rangel. Then, speaking to the crowd, Espaillat said it was a historic moment for all Latinos, not just Dominicans. He then switched to English. 

“We’re not asking anything that any other group, any other race, any ethnicity or gender has asked for in the past,” he said. “We are asking for the same type of treatment and we want unity among our community.”

The modified flatbed truck, now parked behind Espaillat and filled with supporters, began to play music and the press moved in. 

Asked about the Rangel endorsement from rival Linares, he said, “This is a Democratic nation and everyone’s entitled to support who they want, but as you can see here, we have a show of massive support.” 

He continued by saying it was a historic moment, then another reporter asked whether he took the endorsement as a snub.

"No, absolutely not,” Espaillat said. “If it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. We knew that was coming."