Changing Demographics in Harlem Challenge its National Role

Charles RangelThe U.S. House of Representative seat that encompasses Harlem has been held by an African-American since 1944. However, changes in the demographics of Harlem and the redistricting have challenged the role of the so-called Harlem seat as a national spokesman for the nation’s African-American community.

Upper Manhattan has become less Black as more Hispanics and whites have moved into nearby areas. The new redistricting has created a single district that spans Harlem, Washington Heights, and an area of the Bronx. The racial breakdown of this new district’s voting population is 34 percent African-American and 45 percent Hispanic. This new voting population has encouraged multiple primary challenges to Harlem’s current representative, Charles Rangel.

In this solidly Democratic district, the representative is often decided in the Democratic primary. Dominican-born state senator Adriano Espaillat is focusing on rallying the Hispanic community to elect someone who will represent them. Former local Democratic district leader Joyce Johnson is trying to tap into the women’s vote in district where, Ms. Johnson points out, half its voters are women. Clyde Williams, a former national political director for the Democratic National Committee who’s worked for both President Clinton and Obama, presents himself as the only challenger with the experience in Washington politics.

A broad collection of local leaders had met in an effort to create a redistricting plan that would save the African-American Harlem seat, while having a new seat that could meet the interests of the changing neighborhood. However, the Legislature was unable to agree on a redistricting plan itself, which sent the task to federal court. The federal court’s redistricting plan realized the local leaders’ worst fears by keeping a single seat that covered Harlem and other areas. This has opened the door to ending Harlem’s stature as a representative for the nation’s African-American community.

Read more at The New York Times.