NEW YORK STATE SUPREME COURT — State Sen. Adriano Espaillat all but revoked his concession to Rep. Charlie Rangel Monday, saying his contentious race to unseat the long-time Congressman is now too close to call.
Hours later, his lawyers opened the door to a possible do-over primary if evidence of wrongdoing was found.
With more than 1,000 absentee and affidavit ballots still left to count, Rangel is now holding on to his seat by a razor-thin margin of just 802 votes, according to revised numbers released by the Board of Elections late Saturday.
"I'm not going to say that I won or I lost because obviously we don't know yet," Espaillat told reporters Monday, speaking for the first time since the election, outside of a senior center in Washington Heights.
"That is a problem," he added, "that a week later, we really don't know who won this race."
On election night, the board had declared Rangel the clear winner, with 45 percent of the vote. But it was soon discovered that dozens of precincts had been left out of the count, including many in Espaillat's strongholds of Inwood and Washington Heights.
“I felt I did the right thing then," he said of conceding. "The circumstances have changed."
In addition to botching the initial count, Espaillat's camp has also accused poll workers of dissuading his supporters from casting their ballots, and said Board of Elections personnel prevented his staff from observing the count as votes were tallied, which they are supposed to be allowed to do.
His lawyers had been expected to call for a recount, with proper observation, during a highly anticipated appearance in front of a State Supreme Court judge Monday afternoon.
Dozens of reporters packed into the Lower Manhattan courthouse, waiting for more than an hour for the proceedings.
But instead of arguing their case, Espaillat's lawyers immediately asked to withdraw their original complaint, which accused elections workers of improperly securing the ballots. Instead, they intend to refile Tuesday under a different, broader statute, that would allow them to call for a new primary election, instead of just a recount, Espaillat's spokesman Ibrahim Khan said
"One of the things that it does do is it allows you to file for the election to be re-done," said Khan. "Doesn't mean we're doing that. It just keeps our legal options open so we have a little bit more leeway."
Outside the courthouse, Espaillat's supporters continued to rail against the Board of Elections, for what they have described as a concerted effort to keep voters away from the polls.
"They were not bilingual... They were requesting IDs and making people believe they needed IDs to vote... They removed entire families from the book... They switched the names so they cannot be found in the book," charged Espana Aristay, an Espaillat supporter who worked as a poll watcher in the 72nd Assembly District on Election Day.
Espaillat described similar complaints from supporters and family members.
"We have gotten hundreds of complaints of voter suppression, of voters being turned away from the polls arbitrarily by non-Spanish speaking inspectors, in many cases," said Espaillat, describing the situation as “similar to what happened in Florida between Gore and Bush.”
"It reeks with irregularities,” he said, calling for a complete overhaul of the board. "The Board of Elections is broken. We should just shut it down and build a new system."
While Espaillat refused to join some of his backers in accusing Rangel-friendly poll workers of deliberately trying to prevent Dominican-Americans from voting by turning them away from the polls, he said voters need to be reassured the city’s voting process isn’t "rigged" or that "perhaps there are backroom strategies put in place to prevent them from voting or to skew the results in one way or another."
But Board of Elections spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez slammed the charges as "baseless" and insisted the board has acted appropriately.
"The Board has acted in accordance with the law and its duly adopted procedures throughout this process. This was acknowledged by counsel to Senator Espaillat who stated in open court that the Board’s procedures are more than sufficient to ensure the security for ballots," she said via email.
"We believe that the withdrawal of this proceeding today indicates the baseless nature of the unsupported allegations contained in the papers that were filed in court," she wrote.
The Rangel campaign has repeated that it expects Rangel to remain victorious once the final vote tally is in.
In an email to supporters received by Politicker Monday, Rangel said he was "baffled" by the matter and asked for donations to help pay his legal fees.
"To my surprise, my opponent’s campaign pounced on me on Friday, saying that I had somehow stolen their votes! I’m completely baffled by the situation and the way my opponent has been reacting," he wrote.
"I don’t know what will transpire in the coming days, but one thing is clear: I need your help to prepare myself for another battle — whether it’s a legal battle with the Board of Elections or with my opponent."
Over the weekend, Dominican leaders called for the U.S. Department of Justice to step in to oversee the remainder of the count, and opened a hotline where voters could file complaints about issues they may have encountered on voting day.
The remaining ballots are set to begin being counted Thursday.