U.S. Congress Could Soon See Its First Dominican Republic-Born Member

Adriano-Espaillat
Harlem's new Congressman-elect Adriano Espaillat, r.
Expedia.com
Adriano-Espaillat
Harlem’s new Congressman-elect Adriano Espaillat, r.

By NAN Contributor

News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Weds. June 30, 2016: History was made last night again in Harlem, New York! State Senator Adriano Espaillat appears set to become the first person born in the Dominican Republic (DR) to win a U.S. Congressional seat.

Even more historic was the fact that the Caribbean-born Espaillat won the Democratic Primary to replace retiring African-American Congressman Rep. Charles Rangel in NY’s 13th Congressional District. Rangel was the second-longest serving member of the House of Representatives, serving continuously since 1971. Espaillat had narrowly lost to Rangel in two previous primary challenges and returned with vigor in this election. The Primary win sets Espaillat up as a sure shoo in for the seat in the November general election.

At around 11:05 p.m. last night, he declared victory after 98 percent of the precincts reported that the state lawmaker was leading his main challenger, Assemblyman Keith Wright, by about 1,100 votes.

Espaillat had 15,513 votes (36.7 percent) to Wright’s 14,419 votes (34.1 percent) in the last unofficial voting tally from the New York Board of Elections. But Wright, who was endorsed by Rangel, had not yet conceded the race as of press time.

“No candidate can declare victory tonight. Not until every vote is counted,” Wright said, while calling for the Department of Justice to investigate voter suppression.

The race had pitted the Hispanic community against the African-American-born voting bloc, but Espaillat seems to have prevailed with strong support from the DR and Puerto Rican communities in Spanish Harlem, putting a dent in the old guard of black politics in Harlem. The 13th congressional district is a Democratic stronghold taking in norther Manhattan and the portions of the western Bronx.

Espaillat, 61, was born in Santiago de los Caballeros in the Dominican Republic. He and his family migrated to the U.S. when he was a kid and he graduated from Bishop Dubois High School of NYC in 1974 and earned his B.S. degree in political science at Queens College in 1978.  He went on to serve as the Manhattan Court Services Coordinator for the NYC Criminal Justice Agency, a non-profit organization that provides indigent legal services and works to reduce unnecessary pretrial detention and post-sentence incarceration costs.

As a state-certified conflict resolution mediator and volunteer with the Washington Heights Inwood Conflict Resolutions and Mediation Center, Espaillat helped resolve hundreds of conflicts.  He later worked as Director of the Washington Heights Victims Services Community Office, an organization offering counseling and other services to families of victims of homicides and other crimes. From 1994 to 1996, Espaillat served as the Director of Project Right Start, a national initiative funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to combat substance abuse by educating the parents of pre-school children.

He then became an active voice on New York City Community Board 12, and President of the 34th Precinct Community Council, working to eradicate drugs and crime from Upper Manhattan and successfully advocating for the creation of a new police precinct and also served on Governor Mario Cuomo’s Dominican-American Advisory Board from 1991-1993.

He was first elected to the New York State Assembly after defeating 16-year incumbent John Brian Murtaugh in the 1995 Democratic Primary. In the Assembly, Espaillat chaired the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus, and committees on small business and children & families.

Espaillat first ran for Senate in 2010 after incumbent Democrat Eric Schneiderman announced his campaign for New York Attorney General and received more than 50 percent of the vote in a four-way Democratic party. In 2012, he ran again and defeated then-Assemblyman Guillermo Linares 62 percent – 38 percent in the Democratic Primary to take the Senate seat.