WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — As Adriano Espaillat celebrates his win as the first Dominican-American elected to Congress, those in his district are already looking ahead to what they hope he will accomplish in office.
Espaillat, who takes over from longtime Rep. Charles Rangel in the 13th Congressional District effective Jan. 1, 2017, ran a series of very contentious races for the seat since becoming the state senator of the 31st District in 2010, before which he served as the assemblyman for the 72nd District since 1996.
He ran for Rangel's seat first in 2012 and again in 2014, before winning the primaries in June against Assemblyman Keith Wright, former presidential advisor Suzan Cook, Mike Gallagher, former Councilman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and State Assemblyman Guillermo Linares.
“Third time is the charm,” Espaillat said to DNAinfo New York. “It’s a great opportunity to bring my vision.”
Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University, said Espaillat’s success as he begins his term will depend a lot on Tuesday's election results elsewhere in the country.
“It depends on whether Democrats are able to capture the house,” she said. “He could be catapulted into important legislation, if Hillary Clinton wins. This is the time to do it.”
Greer also said that when it comes to his challenges locally, Espaillat needs to really make sure that Black residents feel he supports their agenda.
“Until he goes through a few re-elections, he’s going to be very vulnerable,” Greer said.
Rangel, who plans to close out his 45-year tenure in Congress along with President Barack Obama at the end of 2016, noted that Espaillat’s win in June signaled a significant demographic shift in the district, which has been represented by an African-Americans since Adam Clayton Powell Jr. in 1945.
Espaillat said he plans to represent everyone in his district, which stretches from The Bronx through East Harlem and Northern Manhattan into the west side of Manhattan, by bringing to the forefront issues that matter most to all residents. That includes gentrification, housing, jobs, education and immigration, he said.
Espaillat launched a plan to build a bridge to all of his diverse constituents by opening an office in the Bronx at 80 W. Kingsbridge Road, and also meeting with several leaders and groups in Harlem shortly after winning in July “to continue the fight.” He said he plans on keeping his Bronx office open after his win.
“Gentrification is real problem across the district,” Espaillat said. “At the center of that is affordability, and whether or not people can afford to stay in the neighborhood where they would like to live. This is something I would like to address at the federal level.”
Espaillat said that winning in Congress means that he will be able to provide “some level of relief for neighborhood and families that are facing eviction or having a tough time making ends meet,” such as the child care tax credit increase proposal he announced earlier this year, which he said will provide relief for working families.
As a state senator, Espaillat worked to sustain affordable housing, and went on to become a leading voice for advocate for workers’ rights and immigration services, said spokesman Jake Potent.
The advocacy work has long been part of Espaillat's track record, from his time as a community board member, director and program coordinator of several nonprofits including Project Right Start, Washington Heights Victims Services Community Office and Gov. Mario Cuomo's Dominican American Advisory Board, his spokesman said.
This year, Espaillat worked with residents and other elected officials to save a three-decade-old supermarket, and also introduced a one-year moratorium to ban the issuance of new liquor licenses to Inwood restaurants and bars. The moratorium, which was initially supported by Community Board 12, fizzled out in September after board members refused to uphold it, citing delays in its passage.
Marisol Alcantara, who won the Democratic nomination for Espaillat's State Senate District 31 seat, said she plans to pick up the moratorium bill as soon as she takes office in January.