NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel avoided a prolonged fight for his 23rd term Thursday as his main opponent conceded and said he would not challenge the results of a tightly contested primary that divided their New York City district along demographic lines.
State Sen. Adriano Espaillat's campaign said he called Rangel to commend the Democratic stalwart on the victory and his five decades in public service. The 84-year-old Rangel has said the next term will be his last. He's expected to easily win the general election in his heavily Democratic district.
Espaillat's concession call came a day after The Associated Press declared Rangel the winner in Tuesday's primary. Rangel led Espaillat 47.4 percent to 43.6 percent, a difference of fewer than 2,000 votes, with 100 percent of the vote counted in unofficial results.
While the official vote count won't begin until July 2, AP based its call on the city's disclosure Wednesday that the number of absentee and provisional ballots was not sufficient for Espaillat to make up the difference.
Espaillat spokeswoman Chelsea Connor said the candidate would not challenge the results, as he did in an even closer primary matchup with Rangel in 2012. Espaillat said he will now focus on running for re-election to the state Senate.
Both men are expected to attend a unity rally in Harlem on Saturday and pledge to work together to serve the community after the bitter campaign, event organizers said.
Rangel didn't wait for Espaillat's concessik
on or official confirmation before declaring victory. He proclaimed himself the winner after an offbeat, nearly hour-long session of what he called "sweating it out" with supporters -- a sort of political variety hour, complete with stream-of-consciousness remarks, Q-and-A with advisers about the latest vote totals and tributes from a parade of supporters.
He reiterated that position in a statement Wednesday, saying he was: "Fired up and ready to go!" But just after the polls closed Tuesday, as early returns showed Espaillat with a lead, Rangel's mood was considerably more reserved.
The congressman said he wondered whether his Upper Manhattan and Bronx district, once a black stronghold but now mostly Hispanic after being redrawn in 2012, had split along demographic lines as he faced Espaillat, a veteran state lawmaker seeking to become the first person born in the Dominican Republican to be elected to Congress.
Espaillat, 59, lost to Rangel in 2012 by about 1,000 votes in results that took two weeks to finalize after he launched a legal challenge. Rangel, once arguably the nation's most influential black elected official, had been weakened after 2010 ethics violations forced him to give up the chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
"While much has been written about the politics of race and ethnicity within this district, there is no question that our campaign focused on bringing the community together around our shared needs and struggles," Espaillat said in a statement after conceding Thursday.
Rangel did not let the narrow margin and his prolonged path to victory, with Wednesday's AP call and Thursday's concession, get in the way of enjoying election night.
He watched early returns with his wife Alma and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins -- his good friend and the last of his compatriots from the "Gang of Four" prominent Harlem politicians -- before moving on stage.
It was anything but an ordinary election night speech in an era of staying on-message. But political experts say his unorthodox approach reflected the political persona he has developed in 22 terms and, perhaps, a veteran lawmaker's desire to savor the moment as his campaigning days close.
"Politics are now so scripted that few candidates are willing to go off-script," said Tom Hollihan, a University of Southern California professor who specializes in political communications. But "at this point in his life, he's kind of earned the right to be a little quirky."
Few politicians would try his approach, but Rangel had gone off-the-cuff before in the campaign. During a May debate, he pretended to take a cellphone call, getting in some zingers about his opponents while talking to the phantom caller. It got him laughs, not laughed off the stage.
"No political adviser would ever suggest doing anything like that," Fordham University political science professor Christina Greer said, "except for the fact that he pulled it off."
As he left the stage, Rangel recalled telling his wife that morning: "Honey, this is the last time I'm going to be voting for me!"
By Thursday, even Espaillat was declaring him a winner.
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