Representative Charlie Rangel’s political journey and victory in Tuesday’s Democratic primary is inspiring citizens nationwide.
Rangel won the five-way race for the new 13th Congressional District in New York stretching from east Harlem to northwest Bronx.
"They've had enough trust in me, they say, 'Rangel, we think you can do it. We want you on our team in the Bronx,' "he said. “And so I can tell everybody who don't know this district or the Bronx, when I'm walking the streets of the Bronx, I feel my district and the blood and the minds and the ambitions and the things that people want for their children."
Rangel took 45-perecent of votes while his nearest rival, Senator Adriano Espaillat, collected 40-percent of votes.
Rangel was born and raised in poverty in Puerto Rico and later moved in with his aunt and uncle in the Bronx. He dropped out of high school and shortly after joined the Army, receiving a Bronze Star for rescuing 40 men trapped behind Chinese lines in the Korean War.
He used his G.I. Bill to receive a degree from New York University and went on to receive a law degree from St. John’s University.
Rangel began his political career by serving as an assistant U.S attorney and was later elected to the New York State Assembly in 1966.
In 1970, Rangel defeated area opponent and rival, Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., in the Democratic primary for a U.S. House seat. He went on to defeat Powell’s son in the 2010 primary.
This year’s race posed to be a challenge for Rangel who faced changing demographics and a re-drawn district with more Latino Americans than African-Americans. Although this was a problem for Rangel, it was a benefit to his opponent, Espaillat who spent his campaign targeting Hispanic voters.
David Wasserman, editor of House races for the Cook Political Report believes that despite the heavily Latino district, it was the strong voter turnout of African-Americans in support of Rangel that won him the seat.
"His 2010 primary was more of a referendum on ethics. This was more a test of ethnic strength and a referendum on Rangel's fitness for office," Wasserman said. "He delivered a more tenacious campaign closer to Election Day, and he was able to count on very loyal support to win a low-turnout primary."
In 2010, Rangel was found guilty of several ethical violations including not paying taxes on rental property in the Dominican Republic and housing his campaign headquarters in the building where he lives.
Political experts anticipated this year’s race to be the end of Rangel’s career citing his ethical problems and the redistricting issues.
“While Congress' rating is in the single digits and several incumbents have lost primaries around the country, Rep. Rangel is still extremely popular in Harlem,” explained Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste. “His re-election is both a testament to his longevity and a reflection of his constituents, who clearly don't seem to mind his ethical lapses.”
Support for Rangel’s political vigor became apparent during the tough election.
"He is a consummate public servant, and public service is not easy whenever your life is open for constant scrutiny and everything you do is under a microscope," said New York State Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright, a co-chairman of the state Democratic Party. "He's from Harlem. We've done nothing but have to fight for whatever we have to achieve."
Rangel was the first African-American chairman of the Ways and Means Committee after Democrats won control of the House in 2006. He was also one of the leading voices fighting against drug trafficking. He also drafted legislation in support of urban communities.
Rangel faced other opponents in this year’s election including New York business executive Joyce Johnson, Rangel’s former intern Craig Schley, and former Bill Clinton aide Clyde Williams.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo endorsed Rangel last week stating that he admires his dedication and service.
Many New York newspapers took sides with Rangel’s opponents throughout the race but it did not pose a concern for the new representative.
"If (the newspaper editorial boards) didn't think, after 42 years, that I was the best qualified, I promise them in the next two years, they'll have no question of the fact that you elected the best," Rangel said.