EAST HARLEM — Rep. Charles Rangel asked the voters of Upper Manhattan and the Bronx to give him two more years to "wrap up" his 44-year congressional career and on Tuesday night they appeared to oblige him.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Rangel had 47 percent of the vote compared to insurgent candidate state Sen. Adriano Espaillat's 44 percent, according to the Associated Press.
But the challenger refused to concede, hoping to squeak out a victory from districts that had yet to be fully tallied.
"We feel this race is too close to call," Espaillat said to cheers from his supporters outside of 809 Bar & Grill on Dyckman Street in Inwood. "This neighborhood we're in hasn't been counted yet. Hamilton Heights hasn't been counted yet."
The incumbent, however, seemed comfortable in his apparent victory. Rangel hit the stage early at his election party at Taino Towers in East Harlem, giving a rambling speech that stopped just short of declaring victory.
"I think this election is historic. It shows the changes taking place in America," Rangel told the crowd.
The Democratic primary was the second between the two men and might have been even more bitter and contentious than last time when a recount was needed to declare Rangel the winner. This time around, there were accusations of race-baiting after Rangel asked about Espaillat: "Just what the heck has he done except say he's a Dominican?" during a debate.
The 84-year-old Rangel said he was healthy for this campaign compared to the 2012 race, when he says a spine infection hobbled him to the point of using a walker.
Rangel's energy showed in repeated acts of feistiness against his two main opponents during three debates, including a telephone skit where he brutally criticized his two opponents and another debate during which he whipped out an iPad while on stage.
A Rangel victory means that in spite of the much-discussed demographic transition of the district from the seat of African-American political power in the city to a Latino-majority district, it still was unable to produce what would have been the country's first Dominican congressman.
Latinos make up 54.6 percent of residents in the 13th Congressional District and Dominicans make up two-thirds of that figure. Approximately 46 percent of eligible voters in the district are Latino, 34 percent are black, 17 percent are white and 3 percent are Asian.
"Rangel's victory is a testament in part to his resilience but also to his stubbornness and his inability to bring along another generation of local leadership," said political consultant Basil Smikle. "He's got the most sophisticated political machine in the district and the other candidates didn't make a compelling case for why Rangel should be fired and they should be hired."
Voter turnout across the district appeared to be low. A polling place at the Harlem River Houses on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and 151st Street reported exactly 100 voters at 2 p.m.
Walrond, a powerful orator who pledged to grow the number of new voters in the same way he has multiplied his church flock, collected 7.9 percent of the vote. Garcia, who doesn't speak English, ran a quixotic campaign highlighted only by her accusation that Espaillat supporters harassed her at her home in an effort to get her to drop out of the race. She received 1.1 percent of the vote.
Before their war of words during their campaigns, Espaillat and Rangel engaged in a game of dueling endorsements.
Espaillat was able to grab support from local politicians such as City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and East Harlem Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez. All three are of Puerto Rican descent and all three supported Rangel during the last election.
Rangel received endorsements from big-name politicians such as former President Bill Clinton, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and Sen. Chuck Schumer. The endorsements highlighted what was his major campaign theme: that his longevity in Congress gave him an advantage that none of his opponents could match.
Espaillat had hoped to turn Rangel's experience against him, saying that he had been in office so long that he had become ineffective, especially after his 2010 censure for ethics violations.