UPPER MANHATTAN — After courting power brokers and elected officials, State Sen. Adriano Espaillat has won the endorsement of a host of local artists.
Painting themselves as “Artists for Adriano," the group, lead by photographer and former Manhattan Times associate publisher Mike Fitelson, is rallying behind the state senator in his race to unseat long-time incumbent Rep. Charlie Rangel in one of the toughest primary battles of his 40-year career.
"Adriano had done so much for the community and so much for the arts,” Fitelson told DNAinfo.com New York, crediting Espaillat for helping to foster “a strong, vibrant arts community” in Inwood and Washington Heights.
So far the group includes 20 local painters, musicians and actors, including filmmaker Jonathan Ullman, actor Bob Braswell, photographer Ruben Henriquez, DJ Elvis Nuñez and comedian and writer Michael Diaz — and Fitelson said he expects to add more names soon.
Fitelson commended Espaillat's dedication to uptown artists, including his long-time practice of hanging the work of local artists in his district office and handing out artwork as awards (“rather than boring old plaques”).
He also praised Espaillat's support for local arts events, including Culturafest and the Uptown Arts Stroll, as well as his plan to develop Northern Manhattan into an "arts hub" to attract more visitors.
“Adriano recognizes the role the arts are playing in helping to revitalize Northern Manhattan and strengthen communication between its residents,” Fitelson wrote in a letter Monday, noting that Espaillat is the only of five candidates in the race who lives in Inwood or Washington Heights.
Fitelson said he hopes supporting Espaillat now will help bolster artists' voices in the Capitol if he wins.
"We would very much like to have an ear in Washington that appreciates the fact that Upper Manhattan is being peopled by artistic folks,” he told DNAinfo in an interview Monday night. “It's really a way for the arts community to grow its voice."
In addition to the artists, Espaillat also received the endorsement Monday of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz, who wrote “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.”
“As a lover of the arts, and a supporter of the growing arts community Uptown and in the Bronx, I am proud to earn the endorsement of leaders in the arts community,” Espaillat said. "Artists have always brought life and color to our neighborhood; now they will help us win this campaign, bringing change to Congress and progress to our communities."
Espaillat is running against Rangel, former Clinton White House staffer Clyde Williams, businesswoman Joyce Johnson and former model Craig Schley to represent the newly redrawn 13th Congressional district.
The primary election is on Tuesday, June 26.
Full disclosure: The owner of DNAinfo.com, Joe Ricketts, made a contribution to the Campaign for Primary Accountability in 2011.