Eddie Borges

A changing of the guard in Upper Manhattan

June 29, 2016  |


The politics in Harlem last night finally caught up with the shifting demographics of Upper Manhattan, sidelining the congressional aspirations of the last heir to the men who controlled black politics in New York City since the middle of the last century, long after their base moved to Brooklyn.

And a hard look at the Election Day numbers shows it wasn’t all that close.

While it looks like state Sen. Adriano Espaillat won the Democratic primary to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel by a mere four percentage points over his closest rival, Assemblyman Keith Wright, when the votes for all the Dominican candidates in the race are totaled, Wright will have lost to them by nearly 10 points – in a district drawn to let Harlem residents repeatedly elect a black man to represent them in Congress.

Espaillat, Assemblyman Guillermo Linares, and Yohanny Caceres, all Dominicans from Washington Heights, won a combined 42.7 percent of the vote. Wright, whose father was a well-known judge and peer of the “Gang of Four,” which included Rangel, former Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton and former Mayor David Dinkins, topped out at 34 percent of the vote.

This is just the beginning of the lightening of the complexion of Manhattan politics and upcoming political battles between blacks and Hispanics across the city. Micah Lasher, a white, Jewish, highly-regarded former aide to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is poised to win the special election this coming January to fill Espaillat’s state Senate seat when he moves to Washington.

Together, these changes threaten to undermine Wright’s second job, especially as he refuses to concede the race to Espaillat, alleging voting irregularities. Wright is not some outsider or reformer doing battle against the local party machine – he is the New York County Democratic Party chairman, in charge of handing out election day polling site jobs. If he can lose the most famouse black congressional seat in the country, he may also have significant trouble fending off a challenge to his party leadership, too.

The other loser on Tuesday was the Rev. Al Sharpton. His National Action Network, where he holds rallies and conducts press conferences, is based in Harlem. As early as 2008, the U.S. Census reported that only 4 in 10 Harlem residents were African-American. If Sharpton has to start busing blacks in from Brooklyn and the Bronx for events, he loses a lot of credibility.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, on the other hand, comes away as a big winner. Two years after she endorsed Espaillat, only to see Rangel handily win in her East Harlem Council district, Mark-Viverito campaigned across Upper Manhattan and helped secure a victory for her preferred candidate.

Meanwhile, expect a number of black and Puerto Rican officials to line up to run in for Bronx borough president in the event that Ruben Diaz Jr. decides to bow out and run for mayor. The 13th Congressional District primary was just the first round in the reshaping of New York City’s leadership in the 21st century.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. was term limited in 2017.

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