Members of the Barack Obama Democratic Club packed into a room in Manhattan’s Church of the Intercession last week. The church, located on West 155 Street, is almost directly in-between the northern Manhattan neighborhoods of Washington Heights and Harlem. It’s a perfect middle ground for a political club that draws its members from the diverse communities that call these neighborhoods home.
The club and the church are also located in the heart of the congressional district represented by Congressman Charles Rangel, who was first elected in 1971, during the Nixon administration. Rangel is a political fixture in both the city and in Washington DC, even as the communities he represents have changed significantly.
Years of mostly Latino and Hispanic in-migration, and African American out-migration – along with the more recent gentrification phenomenon – showed in the results of the 2010 Census. When a judge went to work redrawing congressional district lines to better reflect the new census data, she created a district that reflects the changes northern Manhattan has gone through over the decades: Far more Hispanic, far less black, and increasingly gentrified.
These changes, as well as the residual taint Rep. Rangel has acquired from corruption allegations, has led to a field of primary contenders seeking to oust him. None is a more serious threat than state Senator Adriano Espaillat. He was at the Barack Obama Democratic Club meeting to ask its members for their endorsement.
“This neighborhood has come a long way but we need to do more,” he said. “We could change the political culture and the political landscape for upper Manhattan for the next 20 years.”