WEST HARLEM — Rep. Charlie Rangel dismissed allegations of voter fraud and praised the Board of Elections Wednesday — despite his office's assertion that last week’s contentious primary is now too close to call.
State Sen. Adriano Espaillat conceded to Rangel last Tuesday, when the Board of Elections said Rangel had scored a decisive win. A week later, after new votes were discovered, just 802 votes separated the men — with 2,000 ballots left to count.
Given the close margin, even Rangel now believes the outcome is up in the air.
“That’ll be determined by the Board of Elections,” said his campaign manager, Moises Perez, when asked whether Rangel stands behind his victory.
The delay has also prompted charges of voter fraud from Espaillat, whose lawyers filed new paperwork late Tuesday that leaves the door open for a primary re-do.
But Rangel had nothing but praise for the board at a press conference Wednesday and instead accused Espaillat of undermining the system and "screwing up" election workers' holiday plans.
“I thought this would be an appropriate time to say thank God for this system and those people who work hard to make this system work,” said Rangel, surrounded by supporters, who chanted "Charlie! Charlie!" in front of his Harlem office building.
He said that elected officials should be instilling confidence in the voting system instead of tearing it down.
"At the end of the day, we have an obligation to tell people how important the vote is, for November, for September, when we’re asking people to get out there once again to believe in the system," he said, referring to the upcoming statewide primary and general election.
"You cannot do this by knocking the system. You can’t just call people crooks and say that they’re committing illegal acts," he said, making references to slavery, the 54-mile Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., and "voting rights that people died for" that he alleged people are now trying to take away.
"While we all have have personal and political complaints, don’t knock the system," he pleaded. "It’s all that we have."
On Tuesday night, Espaillat’s lawyer filed new paperwork in court alleging widespread voter fraud during last week's primary, including concerted efforts by Rangel supporters to keep Hispanic voters from the polls.
The “campaign received hundreds of reports from irate Latino enrolled Democrats that there were wrongly turned away from their polling places without being permitted to vote,” the lawyers wrote, accusing inspectors of yelling at Hispanic voters, telling them there was no election, denying them affidavit ballots and telling them their names were missing from voter rolls.
They also charged that bilingual poll workers were replaced at the last minute with English-speakers by “party leaders [who] were supporting Respondent Rangel in the primary election.”
Asked to respond to the allegations, Rangel insisted that if Espaillat had concerns, he should file them in court. After being presented with a copy of the filings, he dismissed the charges.
“I’m not making a big deal out of papers that are served on the Fourth of July or the eve of it,” he said.
Perez added that it will be up the courts to decide if any of the accusations swirling are based on fact.
“Anybody can come up to you and say whatever they want," he noted. "You don’t know whether it was true or not."
Despite the court intervention and outstanding ballots, Perez also remained confident that Rangel would pull off a win.
“He looks very good," he said, describing Rangel's lead.
“Eight-hundred and two votes. That’s pretty considerable," he said, "considering that you only need one extra vote to win."
The Board of Elections is set to begin counting affidavit and absentee votes Thursday.