The contours of Charlie Rangel’s congressional district are expected to change dramatically this year, moving upwards into The Bronx and Westchester, according to Herman “Denny” Farrell, a longtime assemblyman and Harlem powerbroker.
Mr. Farrell revealed the new district lines at a town hall meeting on 147th Street last night where he said the rest of New York’s federal legislative lines have been held up as the State Assembly tried to figure out a way to create a district that would set up Mr. Rangel to win a 22nd term in the House of Representatives.
“The main issue we have is the question of Charlie Rangel’s district,” Mr. Farrell said. “The problem we have is that Charlie Rangel’s district is no longer black.”
Mr. Rangel’s district has been synonymous with Harlem for generations and nurtured several of New York’s most important political figures, including not just Mr. Rangel, but his predecessor, Adam Clayton Powell. The district must change because of sweeping demographic changes that have led to an influx of white and Hispanic voters. Mr. Farrell explained how the problem was eventually solved and said Mr. Rangel is definitely going to run for re-election in “a district that can be won.”
Mr. Farrell and Mr. Rangel are close allies who have worked together for the better part of five decades. During that time, Mr. Rangel has become the third longest serving member of the House of Representatives and the Dean of New York’s Congressional delegation. Because of this, Mr. Farrell said the Assembly’s top priority during the redistricting process that occurs every ten years is making a district for Mr. Rangel that he finds satisfactory.
“You must understand, for the last 40 years, whatever district Charlie Rangel wants, we give it to him, we in the Assembly,” Mr. Farrell said. “Every ten years, they call me they say, ‘Denny, you’ve got to get Charlie to come down here, we got to cut the district.’ Charlie says, ‘I’ll get there.’ I say, ‘Charlie we can’t draw anything else in the State till we draw you. That’s always been our position– we do you and then everything.’ He’s the Dean. He’s the number one.”
Congressional districts are re-mapped once each decade based on new population figures in the census. Since other states now have larger populations compared to New York than they did in 2002, the Empire State is going from 29 Congressmen to 27 and individual districts are all being expanded.
According to Mr. Farrell, this expansion caused tension between Mr. Rangel and his allies in the Assembly, because the congressman wanted his seat to remain in Manhattan and his colleagues didn’t think he’d be able to win in the upper reaches of the island where he’s held sway since 1971 because of changing racial demographics.
“The district he now has, which goes up to 231st Street and goes down to, I think, 86th Street on the West and goes down to 96th Street, I think, on the east, it is approximately 26% African American, 41% Latino and the remaining others whites,” Mr. Farrell said. “Charlie and I have been arguing for the last year-and-a-half, because he originally said to me, ‘Denny, there is no way … I want to be in Manhattan, we’ve got to be in Manhattan.’ I said, ‘Charlie, you can’t do it.’”
Mr. Farrell said Mr. Rangel was initially enraged by the thought of drastically changing the shape of his district.
“He and I have been working together for forty years. He has never hollered at me in 40 years, he blew up at me,” Mr. Farrell said.
Earlier this month, Mr. Rangel expressed his frustration with the redistricting process in a conversation with The Politicker.
“We’ve got to expand. To expand you’ve got to push somebody aside,” Congressman Rangel said.
At his town hall meeting, Mr. Farrell explained why Mr. Rangel’s allies in the Assembly thought he needed to change his district in order to stay in office.
“Charlie Rangel’s district has to get larger by 200,000 [people.] The only place he can get that 200,000 on the island of Manhattan is to go further south,” Mr. Farrell said. “What that would mean is the district would be represented by a white. Now that sounds racist, but so be it. What I mean by that is, if you had that district, we would probably have a Dominican run, two blacks run and one white. The white will win because of the way the numbers are and I even could tell you who the people are because they’re all sitting there waiting.”
Several politicians have expressed interest in challenging Mr. Rangel for his seat depending on how the lines were drawn. The New York Times reported Clyde Williams, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, is likely gearing up to challenge Mr. Rangel and Vince Morgan, a former aide to Mr. Rangel, has already started a campaign for his seat. Former Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, who ran in 2010, is also looking at the seat should Mr. Rangel retire, as is Assemblyman Keith Wright and several other Uptown politicians. State Senator Adriano Espaillat is also considering a campaign for the House of Representatives if there is a majority Latino district in Upper Manhattan, however he isn’t interested in running against Mr. Rangel.
Mr. Farrell said he and Mr. Rangel’s allies in the Assembly repeatedly warned him against keeping his district as is to avoid “a war with our Latino brothers.”
“The one thing we don’t need is minorities banging at each other. We don’t need that, and I said, if we do that district you’ll have a Black/Latino war and we don’t want it,” Mr. Farrell said.
After many discussions, Mr. Farrell said Mr. Rangel’s allies in the Assembly “finally got him to accept” his district would have to change.
“We talked and we talked, and finally, around November he called me and he said, ‘Well, Denny, I guess we’re going to end up having to go into The Bronx. … I said, ‘Come on Charlie, you can keep your office here,” Mr. Farrell said.
Eventually they settled on a plan to create a district with favorable demographics that allows Mr. Rangel to retain control of some territory near his Harlem Home by making a swath from Manhattan, through The Bronx and up into Westchester County.
“He will cut around, he will go up at 155th Street, he will cut up and go up into The Bronx, he will go to Co-Op city and he’ll go up into Westchester,” Mr. Farrell said. “By doing that, we have brought–the district will end up being approximately 41% African-American and that was the number we had to raise. It’ll be a mix of Latino, and then Asian and white, so it’ll be mixed, but it will be a district that can be won.”
Sources tell The Politicker, Mr. Rangel’s new district could leave a neighboring Congressional Member with a much larger Latino population in her district and a potential challenge from Mr. Espaillat.
Earlier this year, Mr. Rangel was considering retirement after he was censured for misconduct by the House of Representatives for multiple alleged ethics violations. Mr. Farrell said he helped convince Mr. Rangel to run for another term by telling him he needed to run again to prevent “those stupid stories that were in the paper being his legacy:”
“He was talking about retiring, I said, ‘You can’t retire. … Plus, come on Charles, the bottom line is, I want the Daily News, the Post to understand that the people of this district know who you are and want you,’ I said. Because that supposed sanction happened after he was re-elected. So, I said, ‘You’ve got to get re-elected one more time to let people know.’ … He’s done too much for us to have those stupid stories that were in the paper being his legacy. That’s not going to be his legacy. So he said, ‘Yes.’”
According to Mr. Farrell, Mr. Rangel’s hesitation about running came mainly from his wife.
“I think his problem was not his problem, but his discussion was with his wife,” Mr. Farrell said. “I think she was sort of saying something to him, ‘Forty years has been a long time.’ But I think he is going to–not think, he has said he is running for re-election.”
Now that the plan to keep Mr. Rangel in power is set, Mr. Farrell said the Assembly can begin working on putting the other pieces of New York’s Congressional redistricting puzzle into place.
“We put that plan together, but we have not solved all of the other problems that we now have to solve in the State,” Mr. Farrell said.