Rangel clings to House seat after two weeks of disputed returns

Although recent elections could be conducted with minimal glitches in Egypt and Libya, this same relatively smooth sailing at the polls was definitely not the case in New York???s 13th District.

It took two weeks to count the votes there, and a legal challenge to the results still stands before the New York Supreme Court. But Sunday, Rep. Charles Rangel was declared the winner of the Democratic primary for Congress in the Harlem-based district.

The final margin for 42-year Rep. Rangel was 1,086 votes out of more than 40,000 cast — a big difference from the 2,300 vote victory the former House Ways and Means Committee chairman held on primary eve. That margin was whittled down after widespread difficulties dealing with affidavit and absentee ballots. As Rangel was certified the nominee, runner-up and State Sen. Adriano Espaillat conceded defeat and announced he would seek re-election to his senate seat.

In the days leading up to announcement of the final results and Rangel???s certification, questions about the voting and the competence (not to mention the integrity) of New York City Elections were rampant. More than 2,000 paper ballots were disqualified by the Board. Aneiry Batista, Espaillat???s recount coordinator, told the New York Daily News: ???We???ve found 192 people in Manhattan whose affidavit ballots were disqualified but who show up as Democratic voters on the rolls.??? In addition, the Espaillat camp said they found 170 disqualified ballots in the Brox on which poll workers failed to write down the Election and Assembly district in which the votes were cast.

In many ways, the outcome of the race in the 13th was eerily similar to that in 1970, in which the young Assemblyman Rangel unseated the legendary (1944-70) Adam Clayton Powell. Although Powell led much of the night, late returns gave Rangel a lead of just over 200 votes, eventually shrinking to 150 votes. Powell wanted to fight the results, refused to endorsed Rangel, but he lacked the drive to do so because of failing health. Two years later, at age 64, Powell died of cancer.

No sooner was the ink dry on the certification papers than speculation mounted on who would run for the seat in 2014, when Rangel — who has long battled a spinal infection and will be 84 — is almost certain to retire. The two names most frequently mentioned for the Democratic nod are those of Assemblyman Keith Wright and former state legislator Adam Clayton Powell, IV, namesake-son of Rangel???s predecessor. Wright, a close ally of Rangel???s, is co-chairman of the New York State Democratic Party and son of State Supreme Court Justice Bruce Wright — attacked by conservatives as ???Cut ???em Loose Bruce??? for his record of lenient sentencing of criminals in his courtroom. Young Powell twice challenged Rangel but endorsed him over Espaillat this year.

Espaillat himself could easily win if he runs again in 2014. His near-win notwithstanding, he is of Dominican heritage in a district that is now 55 percent Hispanic.

Possibly, the long-running saga of New York???s 13th District is not at an epilogue but a fresh chapter.