NEW YORK (AP) — With Primary Day just days away, longtime congressman Charles Rangel says he's not overconfident he'll prevail over his closet rival — but insisted that voters would stick with a veteran lawmaker, dismissing criticism that he was too old to continue serving in Washington.
"If you had a racehorse that won 43 races, brings in the money, but the horse is old and experienced and knows the track — what would you do?" Rangel, 84, asked reporters Saturday at a Washington Heights storefront church, where he was endorsed by about a dozen Spanish-speaking ministers. "Would you send him to the glue factory? Hell no."
A NY1/Siena College poll released Thursday put Rangel, a 22-term New York Democrat, up 13 points over his closest challenger, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat. The margin of error was 3.7 percentage points.
In 2012, Rangel beat Espaillat by fewer than 1,000 votes, a result he attributed Saturday to overconfidence and poor health. The primary is Tuesday. Espaillat, who if elected would be the first member of Congress born in the Dominican Republic, held a campaign rally in upper Manhattan Saturday accompanied by a handful of local elected officials, dozens of campaign workers and about 100 supporters.
"This is a coalition of victory that is completely convinced that Washington is broken and that at the center of that dysfunction is a gentleman called Charles Rangel," he said to applause. Espaillat dismissed the latest poll's findings as he marched along Broadway with Comptroller Scott Stringer, who beat former Gov. Eliot Spitzer last year in a primary race for that seat which, at one point, had him down 15 points.
Rangel, the last of Harlem's traditional African-American powerbrokers, has been criticized for invoking Espaillat's Dominican heritage, claiming in a debate last month the state Senator hadn't done anything to gain support other than be Dominican in an increasingly Dominican district.
But at the church, Rangel focused on the issues he said he'd fight for in Congress — affordable housing, immigration reform, job creation — and avoided saying anything controversial about race and the changing demographics of the district.
"I feel just as comfortable in Washington Heights and El Barrio as the streets of Harlem where I was born and raised," he said. "That's a good feeling. It's not political, it's emotional, it's America. It's what we're all about."
Rangel's grasp on the district has slipped in recent years, beginning in 2010, when he was forced to resign as chairman of the powerful U.S. House Ways and Means Committee after a series of ethics violations and received a sanction of censure from the House.
Brothers Rafael Medrano, 44, and Alfredo Medrano, 67, were split on who they'd vote for. The elder Medrano said he'd likely vote for Rangel, who had the necessary experience. But for Rafael Medrano, the choice was simple.
"Me? I'll vote for Espaillat," he said. "Because he's Dominican."