Saturday, June 30, 2012

Charles Rangel's reelection takes chaotic turn

It’s been days since Charlie Rangel’s primary. And it’s still not entirely clear who won. The veteran Democratic black congressman might be the winner in New York’s 13th District, but no one really knows. It’s a bizarre situation that just keeps getting weirder, a strange case of missing precincts, questionable ballots and utter confusion over who’s to blame for the mess and when the race might be settled. What’s known is this: 32 precincts – 6% of all votes cast – had yet to be accounted for. And another 2,447 affidavit ballots and 667 absentee votes hadn’t been counted yet either. According to the city Board of Elections, Rangel’s lead over second-place finisher state Sen. Adriano Espaillat stood at 1,032 votes, with enough outstanding ballots to alter the outcome. Naturally, the courts are now involved. The state Supreme Court agreed to hear a lawsuit brought by the Espaillat campaign, asking it to examine the squirrelly vote-counting process. Before things went off the rails, Tuesday night had been an evening of celebration and vindication for Rangel, who seemed to have survived the most serious reelection threat of his 42-year career in the House. After initial tallies showed the congressional titan jumping to a 20-point lead over Espaillat, Rangel took to the stage at Sylvia’s, the famed soul food institution located on Harlem’s Lenox Avenue, to declare victory and then party late into the evening with boisterous supporters. But as Tuesday turned to Wednesday and more votes trickled in, something strange happened: Rangel’s margin of victory began to shrink, first to five points and then, by midday Wednesday, to two points. After delivering a concession statement the previous night, Espaillat released a new statement that suggested the race wasn’t yet settled. “Our message of bringing bold, new ideas to change Congress connected with voters, as demonstrated by our strong show of support and the voting results that continue to come in,” he said. Not much has changed since then. And the race might remain in limbo for days, if not weeks. Valerie Vazquez, a spokeswoman for the New York City Board of Elections, said that with the July 4th holiday approaching, officials wouldn’t begin processing the affidavit and absentee ballots until after the holiday. And should the margin between the two candidates diminish to one-half of one percent or less of all votes cast, she said, the elections board would undertake a manual review of all ballots cast. The spectacle — and the surrounding chaos — has the city’s political class staring in disbelief. While election workers continued the tedious task of reviewing ballots, there were indications that tensions between the Rangel and Espaillat camps were beginning to escalate. Ethnic and racial tensions also are bubbling to the surface. Espaillat’s backers contend that many Hispanic voters had been turned away from the polls as they tried to cast ballots for the state senator, who is trying to become the first Dominican-American member of Congress. Leonel Fernandez, the president of the Dominican Republic, has reached out to Espaillat to see if he can offer any assistance, according to an Espaillat aide. A group of liberal activists has been scheduled to march in front of the Federal Election Commission in downtown Washington, protesting what they saw as a concerted effort to disenfranchise Hispanic voters in the race and to call on the office “to investigate claims of voter fraud and intervene in this disputed primary.”

No comments: