The Reluctant Senator

After losing a second congressional primary to Charles Rangel in June, Adriano Espaillat is campaigning against Robert Jackson to keep his seat in the 31st State Senate district.

Espaillat’s 2014 campaign against Rangel, when he got 43.6 percent of the vote, was only slightly better than his 2012 campaign against Rangel, when he won 41.3 percent of the vote. Those close numbers, however, were not against a Congressman at his full strength. Rangel was found guilty in 2010 of 11 Ethics Committee charges, and was officially censured by the House. These charges included keeping four below-market-rate apartments for his personal use, failing to report rental income from his villa in the Dominican Republic, and accepting sponsored trips to the Caribbean.

Jackson, a long time New York City politician who served 12 years on City Council, was term limited out of office in 2013. Afterwards, he ran for Manhattan Borough President, losing to Gale Brewer. Jackson declared his candidacy for State Senator of the 31st district just four months ago. “This is a sprint,” he said in an interview.

Jackson argues that Espaillat isn’t interested in being State Senator – he’s run for Congress twice. “You need a fighter to go up there and fight for that, and is going to be present 100% of the time and not be absent 60% of the time,” said Jackson, taking a jab at Espaillat’s Senate attendance record. “If I worked for you, and I’m missing work 60% of the time because I’m looking for another job, would I still have my job with you?”

According to analysis of the legislative session by the New York Public Interest Research Group, Espaillat missed 656 votes, or 60 percent. This is largely because votes are held the week before elections when candidates are likely to be on the campaign trail.

Espaillat was cagey when asked if he would run for congress again. “I think it’s so unfair for me to answer that question right now,” he said, “particularly since I just got out of a very contentious congressional race, and right now what I’m focusing on his my re-election for the state senate, and next year the renewal of the rent laws. I haven’t even entertained that idea yet, and don’t plan to do that for a while.”

In this election, Espaillat has endorsements he lost to Rangel during his congressional race, like Governor Cuomo, and SEIU1199, the largest union New York City. Espaillat’s touted housing qualifications are something that Cuomo cited when endorsing him. If the Democrats win the majority, he will be Chair of the Housing Committee next year when rent control legislation is set to expire. He is currently the top ranking Democrat on that committee in a Republican controlled senate.

Jackson has picked up endorsements from West Side Democratic clubs including the Park River Independent Democrats, the Broadway Democratic Club, and the Three Parks Independent Democrats. “The majority of the votes are from Northern Manhattan, but the highest percentage votes are in the Upper West Side,” said Jackson. “So we’re focusing on the Upper West Side, which is majority white, and quite frankly, mostly all of the elected public officials and Democratic Clubs on the Upper West Side have endorsed my candidacy.”

Though neither Espaillat or Jackson admitted campaigning more to one ethnic group over another, their power bases are in different places – while Jackson is counting on the Upper West Side to deliver a high voter turnout, Espaillat is counting on his name recognition in the Dominican Community, still the largest ethnic group in Washington Heights.

On Labor Day, in the sweltering heat of the afternoon, Espaillat was on St. Nicholas Ave and 181st St. in Washington Heights, shaking hands with pedestrians, standing next to his ubiquitous campaign bus decorated with dozens of American flags. He seemed to know many of the people walking by, and talked easily in Spanish.

 

Francisco Calderon, 38, is a long time resident of Washington Heights, and an Espaillat supporter. “I’ve known him for a long time, he’s always represented the Spanish community, and very well mannered,” he said.

Nine days before the primary, Jackson organized a Peace Run that covered the length of the 31st District, to bring attention to international violence in the Middle East, and local violence in Upper Manhattan. He stopped along the way to say a prayer with different clergy members, including Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid and Rabbi Sheldon Fine. “If the people know that he’s running, and they know his record, his chances are very good,” said Imam Abdur-Rashid. Jackson was joined by a few people at each stop, but turnout was fairly low. On 151st street, Dominican members of the St. Jude’s Tenant Association came out to support him. “In my opinion, Robert Jackson helped more the community, said Celina Almanzar. “You can see Jackson everywhere no matter what. I’ve hardly seen Espaillat.”

 

 

 

 

 

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