HARLEM — Rep. Charles Rangel soared to victory after a contentious campaign for the 13th Congressional District seat with a promise to serve two final years in office on top of the 44 years he has already served.
But Rangel's supporters, and even some detractors, say that in addition to pushing President Obama's agenda of housing and jobs in one of the country's poorest congressional districts, they also have another goal for the congressman — grooming a successor.
"He needs to take someone with him to Washington every week and teach them the lay of the land," said the Rev. Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, a Rangel supporter who is the chair of Community Board 9 in West Harlem. "He needs to be the Zen master."
Community Board 10 chair and Rangel supporter Henrietta Lyle added that she's "hopeful the mentoring will happen."
In Rangel's home base of Central Harlem, there is fear that the district, created in 1942 to ensure the election of an African American candidate, could fall into disarray once Rangel vacates the seat.
Whoever is next in line will need to bring together different sections of the district, said Steven Romalewski, mapping director at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
The recently redrawn district includes more of the Bronx and now has a Latino majority that twice fell just short of sending the country's first Dominican-born politician to the House of Representatives. And over the last 10 years there has also been an influx of white voters and a decrease in black voters, experts say.
This election revealed a real divide in the district — focused primarily in Rangel opponent Sen. Adriano Espaillat's Assembly district, Romalewski said.
Romalewski said Espaillat did well in areas he already represented but struggled in other areas that are not in his district, such as East Harlem, despite having the support of powerful elected officials there such as City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez.
"In two years, if Rangel doesn't run, the question is: can any candidate do the groundwork beforehand to get enough people to get behind his or her candidacy? Or will it be a fractured free for all?" said Romalewski.
On Election Night, Rangel spoke about spending his final two years in office unifying the district and ultimately supporting a potential successor.
"When you talk about grooming somebody, I think the way I earned the respect of every part of the district, that whoever succeeds me has to do the same thing and not just come representing some parts of the district that is so beautifully diversified culturally. We all have to have a mutual respect," Rangel said.
His potential successors are already lining up.
"There are people waiting to succeed Charlie Rangel, but who did not want to challenge him," said former councilman and now Assembly candidate Robert Jackson. "You have people in both the Bronx and Manhattan interested and there won't be a 44-year sitting congressman, so it'll be an open race."
Also in the mix are Espaillat as well as a slew of former Rangel opponents including Adam Clayton Powell IV, Vincent Morgan, Clyde Williams and the Rev. Michael Walrond.
Wright has been long named as a potential Rangel successor, and said he would be interested in the seat.
"There's never a shortage of people with ambitions but you have to find the right candidate," Wright said. "I'm sure, the congressman, after being in congress for 44, 46 years will want to have something to do with who the right candidate is."
Perkins said that Rangel's successor should have a "record to stand on" and needs to appeal more to "community needs" than appeasing Rangel if they want to succeed the congressman.
Still, Perkins has been increasingly vocal about his desire to follow Rangel. During a ribbon cutting for the Boriken Neighborhood Health Center on Third Avenue and 123rd Street in East Harlem on Thursday, Perkins was slated to speak but stepped aside to let Rangel go first.
"Thank you for yielding to your elders," Rangel said.
"I have always wanted to follow Charles Rangel in more ways than one," Perkins said to laughter from the crowd.
But not everyone is pleased with the idea of Rangel picking his successor.
Powell, who served as the master of ceremonies at Rangel's victory party last week, dismissed the idea that Rangel should be involved in choosing his successor.
"We live in a democracy. When I left the state Assembly I didn't get to choose my replacement," Powell said. "He leaves when he leaves and the people pick his successor."
And given Rangel's recent censure for ethics violations and his last two close races, his blessing may be a curse, said Angelo Falcón, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy.
"He's someone who is on the way out and it's not like he won 60 to 70 percent of the vote," Falcón said. "Him anointing someone can backfire."