Adriano Espaillat Faces Battle to Retain Senate Seat After Loss to Rangel
UPPER MANHATTAN — Another political battle royale is brewing Uptown.
After narrowly losing his bid to unseat Congressman Charlie Rangel, State Sen. Adriano Espaillat will now have another fight on his hands if he wants to hang onto his current senate seat — as longtime rival, Assemblyman Guillermo Linares, took advantage of Espaillat's divided attention to build momentum in a bid to replace him.
Espaillat stayed coy about his plans for a return to his seat Monday during his second and final concession speech. But he admitted that petitions to get his name on the state Senate ballot have been circulating since the end of June, as votes were being counted.
"I am considering a reelection bid and should have information within 48 hours," he told reporters in Spanish on Monday, three days before the filing deadline for state Senate to represent the district, which runs along Manhattan’s west side, from the Upper West Side through Washington Heights and Inwood.
Linares, meanwhile, said he is singularly focused on the campaign and building his base.
“I’m working very, very, hard focusing on reaching out to the leadership of different communities to engage them and listen to them and to defend my credentials,” Linares told DNAinfo.com New York shortly after the June 26 primary, adding that his daughter Mayra Linares, a former Democratic district leader, is already planning to run for his Assembly seat.
“I made it very, very clear when I announced my candidacy of my intention to run and represent the 31st [no matter who’s on the ballot],” he added. “I don’t know who will be my challenger. But I am prepared to have a spirited race.”
While many had feared Espaillat’s bid to become the nation’s first Dominican Congressman by unseating Rangel would spark a bitter racial clash, observers say a showdown between the two Dominican lawmakers is likely to have just as divisive an impact on the Dominican community Uptown.
“People forget how much they didn’t get along in the past,” said one Espaillat supporter who is of Dominican descent. “Things have been quiet Uptown, but once they sort out if Espaillat is going to run, all bets are off."
Espaillat and Linares have been jockeying for power ever since the early '90s, when Linares defeated Espaillat in a City Council run, becoming the city’s first Dominican-American elected into office.
Espaillat soon became the state’s first Dominican-American in Albany when he was elected to the state Assembly. Last year, he took over from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in the state Senate, opening the door for Linares to fill his Assembly seat.
While some have speculated that that Mayra Linares might have to drop out of her race to make way for her father if it looks like he's losing, Mayra said she's always dreamed of serving in Albany and insisted there’s no chance she'll back down.
“I’ll tell you this, I just quit my job so that’s not happening,” said Mayra, who had recently been appointed to serve in the Cuomo administration.
“My dad had all the time to think about this,” she said. “At this point, I’m in all the way.”
In an interview with Good Day New York on Tuesday, a day after Espaillat offered his official concession, Rangel reiterated his support for Linares, who surprised many by backing Rangel's Congressional bid.
"As you know, during the heat of the campaign, [Espaillat] indicated he was not considering running for a seat if he lost and he said that several times," Rangel said.
A race between Linares and Espaillat could provide a chance for Rangel, hot off a near-devastating loss, to try to crush his former opponent by putting his institutional power behind Linares.
"You want to take [Espaillat] out," said political consultant Basil Smikle, who said is would be wise for Rangel to eliminate Espaillat if Rangel wants to run again two years from now.
"You may not do it overtly, but behind the scenes a lot of Rangel supporters will be happy if Linares could actually do this,” he said, adding that Linares is a "strong candidate” for the seat.
Still, political experts said that despite the delay in launching his official campaign, Espaillat still enjoys significant advantages against Linares. His Congressional campaign kept him in the public eye, and he has name recognition from his larger Senate district, which covers many west side neighborhoods that Linares' Assembly district does not.
In addition, Espaillat spent tens of thousands of dollars and enjoyed widespread press coverage during and after the election, including during his much-covered challenge to the Board of Elections results.
Furthermore, critics have tried to use the Congressional race to paint Linares as a traitor to the Dominican community, saying he betrayed them by supporting Rangel over Espaillat. Uptown political insider Felix Jerez, a former City Council candidate, went as far as calling him the "Dominican Judas" in El Diario after the endorsement.
"I think there's real anger at him," said one Espaillat supporter who has long been critical of the Assemblyman and doubted he would be able to rally much support.
But the anger cut both ways. During the election, some in Rangel's camp branded Espaillat the traitor for challenging the veteran congressman.
In addition to Rangel's support, Linares has also been working to line up other endorsements, reaching out to leaders including state Sen. Bill Perkins.
"Guillermo Linares is running for that seat. He has asked me for my support and he will be asking others for their support," Perkins said.
A third candidate, Mark Levine, a district leader who had enthusiastically backed Espaillat’s bid for Congress, is also currently in the running, but he is expected to drop his bid to focus on a run for City Council. Levine declined to comment on his plans.
In a head-to-head matchup, the money seems to be with Espaillat.
“It will be fun to watch, but at the end of the day, Espaillat has a better chance of winning," said one Washington Heights native who has worked closely with both politicians in the past. "He knows how to play the game."