By Jineea Butler
It’s gonna be hell up in Harlem this month. The race for New York’s 13th Congressional District’s Democratic primary has the once mecca for African Americans in disarray. The seat has been occupied by the 83-year-old Rep. Charles Rangel for 44 years. Congressman Rangel’s bid for a 23rd term, which will be decided in June, is being challenged by Adriano Espaillat, a Dominican State Senator from Washington Heights, who lost to Rangel by 2 percent in 2012. New to the race is popular Harlem Pastor Michael Waldron, who leads the First Corinthian Baptist Church of approximately 9,000 members.
This seat is important for a number of reasons. First is the issue of maintaining the rich Harlem ancestry and history. Many think that if a Hispanic wins the seat, Harlem as we know it will forever be lost. Harlem was the area of choice during the Great Migration when 6 million African Americans moved from Southern states between 1910 and 1970. Who will protect the legacy of the central Harlem streets that birthed the Harlem Renaissance? The growing reality is the district is 46 percent Hispanic and you have growing populations of Europeans, African immigrants and middle-class Whites.
Many say that under Rangel’s leadership, Harlem has been sold to the Europeans and he did not preserve the quality of life for the people of Harlem. You might of heard Comedian Paul Mooney joke that he lives in Harlem ‘with the White people.’ Former President Bill Clinton opened an office in Harlem in 2001 and since then, rent has gone through the roof. A massive influx of high-priced luxury condominiums followed his arrival. The area has definitely changed for the better but for whom?
Pastor Michael Waldron says ‘The Time is Now for Change.’ Waldron is an awesome motivator, great speaker and has made significant changes in the 10 years since he took leadership of his church. He has the support of Al Sharpton, who was not supported by Rangel in his various political pursuits. However, Pastor Mike’s roots are not in Harlem and he has no political experience or Hispanic allies.
So where does that leave Harlem?
Have the chickens come home to roost for Rangel, who unseated the popular Adam Clayton Powell Jr. in 1970? Fortunately for Rangel, he has the support of Adam Clayton Powell IV, who postponed his own run for Congress in deference to Rangel.
If you remember in 2010, Congressman Rangel was under fire and eventually was censured by the U.S. House of Representatives after an ethics investigation. He was forced to give up his chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. In 2011, Harlem was redistricted, making New York’s 13th Congressional District take in parts of Northern Manhattan and the Bronx. And to top it off, the Democratic primary was moved from September to June, which might be confusing to old line voters likely to support Rangel. Longtime Harlem resident and Rangel supporter Vaughn Lee said that Harlem culture is being diluted and at the end of the day it’s the real estate tycoons who are raping the community.
We all know politics is a tricky arena, but that cannot be the reason you do not get involved. What I love about the Hispanics is they have decided to be a force to be reckoned in politics. They get that working together and voting in blocs will give them the necessary power to reach their goals. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who has supported Rep. Rangel in the past, has endorsed Adriano Espaillat this time. He and many of his Bronx Borough comrades feel that Espaillat will represent the Bronx well and unify it with Manhattan.
A Congressman works on creating, promoting and passing laws and regulations to benefit his or her state and country. When a bill is brought before the US Congress, members listen to testimony from supporters, detractors, and outside experts before voting on it. Congress has the power to pass a law, but it must be signed by the president in order to become law. What we need our Congressman to do is represent issues that are important and need attention in our community. But we have a role to play, too. We fail when we don’t participate in the electoral process or put pressure on our elected officials to act on our behalf.
In 2012, the Hip Hop Union sat down with Congressman Rangel before he was re-elected to a 22nd term. He shared his wealth of experience, knowledge and pledged to guide us through our political journey ahead. This man’s mind was as sharp and the intergenerational dialogue was priceless. He schooled us on the power we possessed and must use as a voting bloc. He’s a true O.G. You have to respect it, and you have to salute it, regardless of whether you vote for him.
Jineea Butler, founder of the Social Services of Hip Hop and the Hip Hop Union, is a Hip Hop analyst who investigates the trends and behaviors of the community and delivers programming that solves the Hip Hop Dilemma. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet her at @flygirlladyjay.