Absentee Ballots To Decide Whether Rep. Rangel Gets A 23rd Term

Even though votes are still being counted, Rep. Charles Rangel has declared victory in his race against Adriano Espaillat. It could be more than a week before the results are available.

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The longtime New York Congressman Charles Rangel appears to be heading back to Washington for a 23rd term. Rangel has already declared victory in this week's Democratic primary election. Now his challenger, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, refuses to concede defeat until every vote is counted, which could take a week or more. Here's NPR's Joel Rose.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: This election is a rematch of the Democratic primary two years ago. The same candidates fought to a photo finish in a district that spans upper Manhattan and parts of the Bronx. Rangel won by less than 1,100 votes, and even Rangel's supporters weren't sure the 84-year-old could do it again.

ERIN VALENTINE: I was nervous. We were nail-biting, if you want to say.

ROSE: Erin Valentine has lived in Harlem for 20 years and voted for Rangel many times.

VALENTINE: I feel like he's accessible to us. I know people in my neighborhood who, when they have a problem - they could go to his office, and he will help.

ROSE: This year, Rangel has a slightly bigger cushion - 1,800 votes out of nearly 48,000 cast. Valentine is no longer nervous.

VALENTINE: We're waiting as his opponent is waiting to see. But we feel confident.

ROSE: Rangel seems to feel confident, too - so confident that he declared victory late Tuesday night with his trademark silver pompadour and gravelly voice in full evidence.

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CONGRESSMAN CHARLES RANGEL: I want each one of you to go home and know that this was your victory. This is your congressman. All I will be doing is thinking about you and bringing these resources home.

ROSE: But his opponent, Adriano Espaillat, has yet to concede.

(SOUNDBITE FROM ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STATE SENATOR ADRIANO ESPAILLAT: We have reviewed the results as they continue to come in, and we feel this race is too close to call. This race is too close to call.

ROSE: Neither candidate spoke publicly on Wednesday. The Associated Press called the race for Rangel, but there are still several thousand absentee ballots to count, and the New York Board of Elections won't even start looking at them in until next week. Espaillat's supporters were hoping things would be different this time.

AUDI LAURA: Yeah, I did. I did. I did.

ROSE: You can hear the disappointment in the voice of Audi Laura (PH). She lives in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. She says many of her neighbors voted for Espaillat who's trying to be the first Dominican-American elected to Congress.

LAURA: 'Cause we are Dominicans - like I am. So we all think, I mean, it's time for one of us to be there and represent us. He knows what - where we come from. He's been there, so it would help us a lot in many ways, I think.

ROSE: You get the sense that Espaillat's supporters have seen this movie before, and they know how it ends. Still Laura says Espaillat shouldn't give in until all the votes are counted.

LAURA: I think he should wait. Who knows? I know he's probably not going to win, but he should wait.

ROSE: Demographics of upper Manhattan and the Bronx have changed dramatically since Charles Rangel was first elected to Congress in 1970. The district has fewer African-Americans and far more Latinos. The Espaillat campaign was counting on thousands of new voters who registered for the city's mayoral election last year. But Christina Greer, a political scientist at Fordham University, says that strategy did not seem to work.

CHRISTINA GREER: It takes time for registered voters to actually become voters, right? You register, you learn about the issues and the candidates and then you go out to vote. That's a multistage process.

ROSE: Greer says it was the experienced political machine of Charles Rangel that successfully got its voters to the polls on a Tuesday in June - voters like Charles Circe of Harlem.

CHARLES CIRCE: Rangel - I like. Yeah, I like Rangel. Rangel's all right. It's good that he gets a last hurrah.

ROSE: Charles Rangel has publicly said this will be his last campaign for Congress, win or lose. But Rangel's friends say he said that last time, too. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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