One of the longest serving members of Congress is fighting to hang onto his career. Tomorrow is New York's Democratic primary, and all eyes are on incumbent Charles Rangel. For 44 years, Rangel has represented a district in upper Manhattan that includes Harlem. He faces three other opponents. The most serious challenge comes from a Dominican-American state senator. Brigid Bergin of member station WNYC sent us this story.


SUPPORTERS: Charlie. Charlie. Charlie...

BRIGID BERGIN, BYLINE: At a campaign stop outside a hamburger joint called The Harlem Shake, supporters for Congressman Charlie Rangel fill the sidewalk along Lenox Avenue. It's a busy thoroughfare that runs through the heart of central Harlem. Once nicknamed the Lion of Lenox Avenue, Charlie Rangel knows some people think he's too old for another term. In a retort this past weekend, the 84-year-old politician turned to a horse metaphor instead.


REPRESENTATIVE CHARLES RANGEL: If you had a good old horse that kept winning the races, why in the world would you want to bring in a colt that doesn't even know where the track is?

BERGIN: Rangel has been a winner 22 times. He was first elected in 1970, defeating the legendary Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., the first African-American elected to Congress from New York. Rangel's held the seat ever since, rising to power in Washington as head of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. But Rangel's influence has waned. He's been dogged by ethics violations, and the demographics and borders of his district have changed by redistricting. Once a black stronghold, the 13th congressional district is now majority Latino.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

BERGIN: Those shifts would seem to favor Rangel's challenger, 59-year-old Adriano Espaillat. He's a longtime state senator who lost to Rangel two years ago by just 1,100 votes.


SENATOR ADRIANO ESPAILLAT: This is a motorcade to victory. (Speaking Spanish) Es de la caravana de la victoria.

BERGIN: At a rally in Harlem's West Side, Espaillat tells supporters that Rangel has sold them out.

ESPAILLAT: He sided with the fat cats in Wall Street and not with the people of this community. We're going to vote him out of office. (Spanish spoken).

BERGIN: If he wins, Espaillat would make history as the first Dominican-American elected to Congress, a distinction Charlie Rangel says he doesn't deserve.

RANGEL: He wants to be the Jackie Robinson of the Dominicans in the Congress, which is ambitious. But the fact is that Jackie Robinson was a star before he reached the major leagues. And he's not a Jackie Robinson.

BERGIN: Espaillat responded by saying Rangel should apologize for making race an issue. But for much of Rangel's career, race has been the issue. Rangel was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, or CBC. And as a leader from the civil rights generation, he's more accustomed to confrontation, says Vincent Hutchings, a political science professor at the University of Michigan.

VINCENT HUTCHINGS: The time is rapidly approaching when there won't be any founding members of the CBC in Congress anymore.

BERGIN: And Espaillat is working hard to convince voters that he is the future. He has strong support from unions and some top local officials. But Rangel's heavy hitters include Bill Clinton and New York governor Andrew Cuomo. So he's not giving up his turf without a fight.


SUPPORTERS: Rangel. Rangel. Rangel.

BERGIN: As he leaves his Harlem campaign stop, Charlie Rangel climbs into a silver Corvette convertible, riding high on the backseat, less like a relic and more like a homecoming king. For NPR News, I'm Brigid Bergin in New York.

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