At Congressman Charlie Rangel’s election night party outside Sylvia’s Restaurant on Malcolm X Boulevard June 26, former New York Governor David Paterson served as emcee entertaining the crowd with political patter and jokes as the results rolled in. Standing on stage with Mr. Rangel’s other longtime Harlem allies, Assemblyman Keith Wright, co-chair of the New York Democratic Party, and Assemblyman Carl Heastie, leader of the Bronx Democratic Party, Mr. Paterson declared Mr. Rangel victorious in his race against State Senator Adriano Espaillat.
“The firm of Heastie, Paterson & Wright have projected Charles Rangel the winner in the 13th Congressional District primary,” Mr. Paterson proclaimed to loud cheers and applause.
Mr. Paterson’s remarks were seemingly made in jest, however ten days after the election, there are some who fear Mr. Rangel’s cronies did hand him a victory after the initial Board of Elections result was found to have left votes uncounted in over thirty precincts and Mr. Espaillat’s campaign has gone to court with allegations of voter suppression and other “irregularities.” In this morning’s Daily News, Juan Gonzalez published a column detailing “troubling signs” that some Board of Elections officials engaged “in an all-out effort by the Democratic Party establishment to ensure a Rangel victory.”
In a conversation with The Politicker, Mr. Wright vehemently denied the various charges in Mr. Gonzalez’s story.
“It’s not true,” Mr. Wright said. “It’s absolutely untrue.”
In his report, Mr. Gonzalez claimed Timothy Gay, a deputy chief clerk at the Board of Elections who is overseeing the counting of votes in the Manhattan portion of the congressional district, met with “key Rangel campaign operatives, and with district leaders supporting Rangel.” Mr. Gay told Mr. Gonzalez that at the meeting, which he said he attended at Mr. Wright’s behest, he gave district leaders “lists of their Democratic inspectors assigned to their specific districts” and discussed “election matters in general.”
“So why did candidate Rangel’s campaign staffers attend, while no Democratic district leaders who supported Espaillat were invited?” Mr. Gonzalez asked.
According to Mr. Wright, the meeting was “standard operating procedure” and Mr. Gay also had similar discussions with Mr. Espaillat’s staffers.
“We did nothing that’s not normally done and Mr. Espaillat has done it also. His folks are on the phone with Mr. Gay all the time. We asked for the list of who would be at our poll sites as we do before every election. Nothing serious, nothing negative,” said Mr. Wright. “Mr. Espaillat did not invite me to be a part of his phone conversations with the Board of Elections, so why should I have [invited them to ours]?”
Ibrahim Khan, a spokesman for Mr. Espaillat said their campaign had routine phone conversations with Board of Elections officials several times during the race, but there were no in-person meetings like the one Mr. Gay had with Mr. Rangel’s supporters.
“We’ve had conversations with various BOE officials throughout this process,” said Mr. Khan.
Normally, poll workers are recommended by district leaders in their respective precincts. However, Mr. Gonzalez said he spoke with “a half-dozen district leaders who supported Espaillat” who told him “the Board of Elections rejected virtually all the people they recommended as poll workers.”
Mr. Wright described this claim as “totally baseless.” Mr. Gonzalez also said the Board of Elections reduced the number of Spanish interpreters it sent to the polls “throughout” Mr. Espaillat’s base in Washington Heights “even though the board knew to expect a surge of Hispanic voters backing Espaillat, who is Dominican.” Mr. Wright disputed this claim as well.
“When I went up to Washington Heights, I saw nothing but Spanish interpreters. I saw nothing but,” he said.
Mr. Wright, who campaigned on Mr. Rangel’s behalf, suggested Mr. Espaillat and his supporters were raising issues with the election to cost Mr. Rangel and his allies in future races.
“They’re trying to create a Pyrrhic victory. Not going to happen,” said Mr. Wright.
We ended up on the phone with Mr. Wright after calling his district office looking for his chief of staff, Jeanine Johnson, who is also one of the attorneys representing Mr. Rangel in the case Mr. Espaillat has brought against the Board of Elections. Mr. Wright said we should just talk to him instead. He also said Mr. Gonzalez made no attempt to speak with him before writing his piece about the Board.
“He didn’t talk to me. It was irresponsible journalism, totally irresponsible,” Mr. Wright said. “Please put in that Mr. Gonzalez did not speak to me, because I would have told him the whole story.”
In a pair of emails to The Politicker, Mr. Gonzalez claimed he reached out to Mr. Wright at his office yesterday.
“Called his office yesterday and left a message, but received no reply,” Mr. Gonzalez wrote. “Ask him to talk to his Harlem office. He’ll see I left a message that I needed to talk to him about the Espaillat/Rangel race.”
We called Mr. Wright backed and told him Mr. Gonzalez said he left a message with the office. Mr. Wright, in no uncertain terms said that was impossible. He also told us he called Mr. Gonzalez this morning after seeing the story and was still awaiting a response.
“That’s such bullshit and that’s such bullshit,” said Mr. Wright. “He did not reach out to me, he’s lying.”