Promising to bring a fresh, young face to Congressional politics, Harlem activist Craig Schley formally announced his candidacy against longtime Representative Charles Rangel Tuesday evening.
Running on the Democratic line, this is Schley’s third time up against the long-incumbent Rangel, the former chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means who was censured in 2010 for a series of ethics violations.
At the Poet’s Den Gallery and Theatre, at Second Avenue and 108th Street, Schley was joined by Harlemites and several endorsers. They emphasized a need for change in the community, embodied in a campaign slogan: Evolve 2012.
“We haven’t moved forward in this district since man walked on the moon,” Schley declared. “Although change works, and hope is nice, it’s not enough. Execution is next.”
He vowed to revitalize arts and entertainment in Harlem, search for funding to stabilize nonprofits and small businesses, support public and charter schools, and re-evaluate family courts.
Directing his attention to the youth vote, Schley said, “I want young people to understand that they are part of the evolution. Their voices are not being heard and they should be heard.”
Among his endorsers were hip-hop pioneer and radio personality Roxanne Shante, president of Veteran Action Group of Harlem Anival Barrett, financier Bill Shea, and the theater owner and restaurateur Raphael Benavides.
“He has fresh ideas, he’s fresh blood, he’s fresh everything,” Benavides said later at the reception. “The career politicians are not working anymore. We need someone who will bring something new to the table.”
Like Benavides, many others at the announcement were critical of the long-standing Rangel. Financier and endorser Bill Shea opened his speech by asking the audience, “What do you do with bleach?” He answered himself: “You use it to get rid of the mold. Maybe this time we’ll get lucky and get rid of some mold.”
The contrast between the candidates is stark. Schley, 48, is a former Wilhelmina model and firefighter. He rose to prominence in Harlem politics in 2007 when he organized a political action committee to fight the rezoning of 125th Street that would pump office buildings and condominiums into Harlem’s “Main Street.”
He faces the embattled but powerful Rangel, 81, who has been in Congress since he defeated Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., in 1970. Rangel won the 2010 general election handily with 80.4 percent of the vote, even though the ethics probes had been underway for two years. Schley, running on the Vote People Change party, won 6.5 percent of the vote.
Schley served briefly as an intern with Rangel in 2003. This makes him the second of Rangel’s former staffers to run against him—Vince Morgan, a campaign aide to Rangel from 2001 to 2003, ran against Rangel on the Democratic line in 2010 and is mounting another campaign for this year’s election.
Schley emphatically denied that his decision to run had anything to do with Rangel’s recent ethics woes. “We ran the first time before he got into his troubles,” Schley said at the reception. “It has nothing to do with him.”
At the reception, attorney Anthony Jordan claimed that he had “little confidence” in the political system. “With Obama, for example, a lot of people got swept up in the hope and dreams. And what happened? Politics as usual.”
Jordan said all he knew was that Rangel “needs to go.”
Harlem resident Eryn-Ashlei Bailey attended because she wanted to get more politically involved. “I want to see more focus on sustainable development and infrastructure in Harlem,” she said. “Craig appeals to the people. You’re not voting for the Man.”
Others, however, were more cautious. “The atmosphere is right, but actions speak louder than words, so I’m stuck in between,” community organizer and activist Wayne Murray said. “I gotta wait.”
An earlier version of this article implied that Schley ran against Rangel in the 2010 Democratic primary; in fact, he ran on a third-party ticket in the general election. Spectator regrets the error.