In the end, it was the same old song and dance.
Charlie Rangel seems set to serve a record 23rd term in Congress; he had a four point lead over opponent state senator Adriano Espaillat with all of the precincts counted. Of course, the 84-year-old veteran of the Hill, the Lion of Lenox, conducted his own victory celebration.
“We don’t need a whole lot of numbers to tell you how good we feel, how proud we feel,” Rangel said to an uproarious crowd at his victory night party in Harlem. This victorious pronouncement was made prior to the final curtain call on the race, which ended with Espaillat recalcitrantly retreating from the media and refusing to let finality set in. In the midst of all of Rangel’s excitement - his raspy voice and beaming smile belying his age - he stood on stage managing the clock, a seasoned pro filibustering his own party. At one point, he asked reporters in the room to provide him with up-to-date numbers on voting percentages. The Congressman barely batted an eye when the stage beneath him began to crumble under the weight of the supporters on it. Instead, he semi-jokingly encouraged the “heavier” members of his contingency to perhaps make their way off stage.
“Let’s all this sweat one out together,” Rangel said, seeming to acknowledge that this was the toughest challenge he has faced from an upstart candidate throughout his tenure. But in reality, Rangel was relaxed. He began his evening on the fourth floor of the Taino Towers - near 123rd and Lexington Ave - in what was dubbed the VIP room. Press was barred from entry but a cast of characters including former mayor David Dinkins got a peek behind the veil where Rangel apparently sat and watched the election results roll in on a TV screen.
Dinkins said he was “weary” on his way into the building and when asked what the implications would be if Rangel were to lose, he simply said “I don’t think that way.”
The rappers responsible for the viral sensation that is “Vote for Rangel,” Fireboy LD and TheRealDonSwaGG, shared this sentiment early on in the night.
“I think he’s going to win,” said Fireboy, whose real name is Lionel Davis III. “When you think of Charles Rangel, he’s like the second person you think of before you think of Obama. It’s like Obama, Charles Rangel.” Davis’ father works for Rangel’s campaign which led to his interest in creating the song. Now, he and TheRealDonSwaGG hope to continue blending politics and rap in future projects.
“I wanna do one for Hillary Clinton,” Davis said. “I have a lot of ideas. Right now, I don’t have the hook. It has to be something catchy like this one. It’s way bigger because she’s running for president. I really want to be a part of that campaign.”
During a lull in the night’s event, the duo took to the stage to perform their song live imploring the audience to say “Rangel” when they said “Charlie.” It was a peculiar moment where viral content came to life; as if Grumpy Cat came onstage and began speaking. The crowd greeted the enlivened performance with the same detached bemusement with which the entire night was handled. People were happy to be there but not fastidiously engaged, filled with fried food and awaiting a moment, they knew was on the horizon.
“The chairman has won! The chairman has won!” fellow congressman Gregory Meeks declared as nearly all the precincts’ votes had been tallied. There was a never a moment of hesitation or concern from Rangel or his supporters; or at least if the faintest iota existed, they crushed it with pummeling music, flag-waving and sheer chaotic glee.
There was chatter prior to Tuesday night about the shifting demographics in Harlem, how the change from a majority African-American population to Hispanic was supposed to favor Dominican Espaillat. He had come close before and many thought this could be his chance. Rangel was frequently flippant on the campaign trail - once pulling out an iPad to answer a question during a televised debate. And there were suggestions that his age had gotten to him, as he appeared confused at a final campaign stop on Tuesday. But for what it’s worth, people in Harlem love their lion. Even those who were just there for the party.
“He’ll be winning when I come back with a bottle of Henny,” said one supporter considering a run to the liquor store. One woman explained that her mother supported Rangel leading her to support Rangel and most likely her children to support Rangel. Those are the roots, the immovable ties blind to ethics probes and corruption charges that are difficult to rip from the ground. But that won’t stop Espaillat from continuing to try.
“As we learned in 2012, every single vote needs to be counted in this race,” Espaillat said in a statement. “Given the thousands of votes outstanding, the people of Upper Manhattan and The Bronx deserve a full accounting of every vote to achieve a complete and accurate tally in this race.”
But in the hectic fervor of a gymnasium filled with tired and intoxicated supporters - some of whom had been up since 5am - Rangel spared very few words for his rival.
“I should congratulate Adriano for doing the best with what he had to work with,” Rangel said.
And just like that, he was off dancing, taking his wife Alma in his arms as a swarm of press and security encircled him in a massive bubble. Effortlessly shirking the corruption scandal,
Rangel remained king for the night.