Rangel’s retirement sparks generational, ethnic shift in New York
The congressman’s district became more Hispanic as fellow African-American politicians waited to succeed him.
Harlem has been an enduring symbol of African-American political power in New York City for decades, from Adam Clayton Powell Jr.’s iconic civil rights protests to Hillary Clinton’s carefully choreographed visits as she explored a Senate campaign in 1999. And for 45 years, voters in the district anchored by Harlem have sent Rep. Charles Rangel to Washington to represent them.
Rangel will retire in 2016, but while the congressman hasn’t changed since 1970, the congressional district has. As Latino voters have grown in power and prominence nationally and within the Democratic Party, shifting boundaries and an influx of Puerto Rican and Dominican-American residents have also changed the fabric of Rangel’s now-majority-Hispanic district.
“This is not a black seat, let me put it that way,” said Bill Perkins, an African-American state senator who is one of seven Democrats already running ahead of 2016. “This is not the seat that Adam Clayton Powell represented.”
Now, Rangel is leaving the seat open for the first time since World War II, when voters there elected Powell to be New York’s first black member of Congress. The race to succeed Rangel has prompted a scramble among a generation of Democrats who have waited to succeed him, while also shining a light on a fast-changing Democratic base.
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