News | West Harlem

New congressional districts shape Rangel race, moving Columbia out of district

After months of legislative deadlock over congressional redistricting in New York, new districts were approved on Monday, marking a turning point in the fight for Rep. Charles Rangel’s seat.

Although there was talk that Rangel’s district—which is being renumbered from 15 to 13—would reach as far north as Mount Vernon, the district will remain centered in Harlem, with the addition of parts of the Bronx.

Additionally, the northern boundary of the Upper West Side’s district will move several blocks north, bringing Morningside Heights and Columbia out of Rangel’s district and into the district that spans most of the west side of Manhattan. Currently represented by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, CC ’69, that district will stretch down the west side, including all of Battery Park City and parts of western Brooklyn.

The finalization of the lines came the day before the beginning of the petitioning period for congressional candidates. During that four-week window before the June 26 primary, potential candidates must gather signatures in order to appear on the ballot.

In a report released by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, federal Magistrate Roanne Mann, who submitted the proposal, characterized redistricting efforts as “Herculean.”

Mann produced the map with assistance from Nathaniel Persily, a redistricting expert at the Columbia Law School, who declined to comment on Monday.

The report states that Mann and Persily “assigned no weight to protecting incumbents,” although many of Rangel’s challengers said that the delay will force their campaigns into a time crunch.

Despite this, candidates said they were prepared for an electoral fight to unseat the longtime congressman and Harlem icon, who has occupied his seat for 41 years.

The delayed release of the lines will affect newcomers’ abilities to run against incumbent candidates, said Richard Briffault, a vice dean and professor of legislation at the Columbia Law School.

“The fact that redistricting was delayed so long will make it very difficult for challengers to run,” Briffault, an expert in election law, said. “Until lines are done, they don’t have a good sense of the contours of the district. Until you know exactly where you’re running, you don’t really know if it makes sense for you to run.”

Briffault added that it would not be out of the question for candidates to ask the courts for more time, but that they will more likely “start running right away.”

Candidate Joyce Johnson, who also ran against Rangel in 2010—when he swept the primary race despite a concurrent House ethics trial that found him guilty of 13 charges—said that despite the stress of gearing up for a campaign, “there’s nothing more exciting than being on the ground.”

The redistricting process “has short-circuited a whole lot of groundwork for the campaign with voters,” Johnson said. “But I am happy now that we have a district that has lines.”

Johnson, who has served in several government positions in New York, was endorsed by the New York Times in 2010 for being “a strong advocate for women’s rights and civil rights for many years.”

“In the 2010 race, 82 percent [of voters] didn’t bother, and 18 percent came out,” Johnson said. “I do know in order for communities to work well, it requires everybody coming to the table and voting. And we must give them a reason. I’m fired up.”

Vince Morgan, a former Rangel aide and community banker, declared his candidacy last October. Morgan said that he was not surprised that the district lines were drawn to incorporate a Hispanic majority.

“I would hope that the people of the 13th Congressional District would be looking at the candidates’ skills and qualifications and not just their ethnic backgrounds,” Morgan said. “The congressperson should be able to represent all demographics equally.”

A representative for Rangel declined to comment on Monday evening.

The percentage of voting-age Hispanics will increase from 43.8 percent in Rangel’s existing district to 52.7 percent in the new district. The addition of a second Hispanic minority-majority district, this one largely Dominican, in New York state may prove an advantage to State Senator Adriano Espaillat.

Espaillat, who recently formed an exploratory committee to pursue the primary nomination, would become the first Dominican American to be elected to Congress if his electoral bid is successful.

“Senator Espaillat is strongly considering it and has been encouraged to do so by members of the community based on his years of advocacy on behalf of poor and working families in New York City,” Ibrahim Khan, a spokesperson for Espaillat, said.

Although redistricting will officially institute a Hispanic majority in Upper Manhattan, where that demographic has been growing for two decades, Briffault said that it was hard to say whether these changes in the historically African-American district would be a game-changing factor in the primary.

“It’s hard to say, but obviously seniority and experience play an issue and ethnicity also plays an issue. I’m sure it’ll be an issue, but whether it will be dispositive remains to be seen.”

jillian.kumagai@columbiaspectator.com

Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to the "14-week window before the June 26 primary," rather the the four-week window. Spectator regrets the error.

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