By Jill Colvin
CITY HALL – Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat kicked off his state Senate campaign on the steps of City Hall Monday afternoon with endorsements from two of the Democratic Party's heaviest hitters.
Rep. Charles Rangel joined City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in endorsing Espaillat, who, if elected to represent the district that includes the Upper West Side, Inwood and Washington Heights, will become the country's first Dominican state senator.
Espaillat, who has served in the Assembly for 14 years, said his campaign would focus on education, tenants' rights and small businesses.
He also described himself as an organizer capable of building coalitions and getting things done at crucial times.
"Deeply inside, I am an organizer," Espaillat said, first in English, then Spanish. "We have to come together to ensure that there is unity in the 31st District."
Rangel, who stepped down from his powerful post atop the House Ways and Means Committee amid questions of ethical lapses, arrived late to the event and left immediately after.
But the icon of Harlem politics, who announced his Congressional reelection bid Sunday, was still greeted with loud applause and said that Espaillat had shown strong leadership on issues ranging from responding to the earthquake in Haiti to the economy.
"I can't think of anyone who has a deeper understanding of the problems," Rangel said.
Quinn praised Espaillat for his past opposition to a West Side stadium proposal and pointed to his grassroots organizing abilities.
Espaillat's decision to run is part of a chain reaction set off by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's bid for governor.
The 31st District Senate seat, which also includes portions of the Bronx, opened up when state Sen. Eric Schneiderman decided to run for Attorney General.