NEW YORK—On a beautiful Fourth of July day in Harlem, the neighborhood’s congressman of nearly forty-two years, Charlie Rangel, gave a spirited defense of the system that he once fought against and now embodies.
“I thought my opponent’s campaign would just say, ‘OK, and enjoy the fireworks,’” Rangel said, referring to the literal fireworks set to go off over the Hudson River, not the continuing fireworks between he and his Democratic primary opponent, New York State Sen. Adriano Espaillat.
Espaillat filed paperwork with the State Supreme Court in the Bronx late Tuesday night asking for a possible recount of his contentious primary challenge to Rangel, whom the New York City Board of Elections declared the winner by 802 votes. Rangel responded on Wednesday with a spirited defense of the status quo.
Dressed in a white suit jacket, blue striped shirt and black pants, Rangel kicked off the press conference by referencing the past — his involvement in the civil rights marches of the 1960s — standing behind a large statue of Adam Clayton Powell, the longtime Harlem congressman that Rangel ousted in a 1970 congressional primary challenge. One of Powell’s most famous quotes, “Press forward at all time, climbing toward that higher ground of the harmonious society, that shapes the laws of man to the laws of God,” was the set in the background as Rangel spoke, now facing a similar possible fate.
The heart of Espaillat’s challenge are the discrepancies since the June 26 vote (79 of of the 506 precinicts weren’t initially counted, absentee ballots are still rolling in), but in the court papers filed Tuesday the challenger also reserved the right to challenge the results because of alleged fraud. From NBC 4 New York:
In the papers Espaillat pushes for a recount in last week’s election and adds the possibility of a new election if it is found that fraud and irregularity made a fair recount impossible in the 13th Congressional District.
Rangel’s campaign manager said he hadn’t seen the papers and couldn’t comment.
The city Board of Elections is expected to start counting absentee and affidavit ballots on Thursday.
Part of the “system” that Rangel was so quick to defend was that same Board of Elections (specific to the city), which has faced criticism following the primary. Beyond the fact that many voters simply weren’t tallied after the initial results were announced showing a Rangel victory, poll workers forgo modern technology in the actual counting, instead opting for the techniques of yesteryear. From a New York Times editorial published Tuesday:
Everywhere else in the state, workers remove flashdrives from the machines that scan ballots and take them to a central computer for counting. (Paper receipts produced by the machines are saved for recounts.) But New York City’s patrontage-addled Board of Elections and its staff seem more interested in protecting their jobs than avoiding errors. Poll workers print out the paper record from the scanning machines, which often include ballots from several election districts, so the workers cut the paper into sections and reorganize the pieces by district.
They add the district votes, write the totals on a sheet and give the sheet and the flashdrive to a police officer, who takes it to the central police station. There, the numbers are typed into computers for a final “unofficial tally.” A few days later, the computer’s tally becomes available.
But Rangel, a New York City icon for more than four decades, dismissed his opponent’s tactics as both naive and malicious.
“You cannot do this by knocking the system. You can’t just do this by calling people crooks,” Rangel said, in a slightly veiled attack against Espaillat’s campaign, saying later, “You can’t knock what you don’t know.”
Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.