U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel jokingly flexed his biceps when asked about his age and then offered to dance with a female reporter to prove his vigor Thursday as he announced his intention to run for a 23rd term.
“I feel so good it scares the hell out of me to be honest,” said Rangel, 83 at an office building on 125th Street. “I find myself on the dance floor and doing things I haven’t done in a long time.”
Rangel survived a close Democratic primary election battle in 2012 with state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, winning by just 990 votes.
The victory came after Rangel suffered a back injury that had him using a walker while he recovered. That prompted some to question whether the octogenarian was up to the challenge of returning to Washington.
It’s also been a rough few years for Rangel, who was censured in 2010 for improper fundraising, the failure to properly report personal income and the improper use of rent-controlled apartments in Harlem. Rangel filed a lawsuit to overturn the censure but it was dismissed.
Rangel put all of that behind him Thursday.
“It’s not going to be a difficult election at all,” said Rangel.
He said one of the main reasons he wants to run again is to help push President Obama’s agenda of jobs for the middle class and immigration reform and to battle Tea Party Republicans whom he criticized for an attitude of wanting to harm Obama at all costs.
“If he got out of a boat and walked on water the Tea Party would say: ‘I told you he can’t swim,’” said Rangel.
“During the three years the president has left I can be of help to him and of help to my party,” Rangel added.
Espaillat is expected to challenge Rangel again. The Rev. Michael Waldron, an associate of the Rev. Al Sharpton and pastor of First Corinthian Baptist Church, and the Rev. Calvin Butts of Abyssinian Baptist have also been mentioned as possible primary challengers.
Rangel said he had spoken to many of his potential and former challengers except Espaillat whom he criticized for running again for his senate seat after conceding the congressional primary election last year.
Espaillat, who is not expected to officially announce his candidacy until the beginning of 2014, issued a statement criticizing Rangel.
“I am proud of the campaign that I ran nearly two years ago, and the progressive ideas we put forward. Since then, voters in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx have watched as Washington has failed to take action on one critical issue for our district after another,” Espaillat said.
“Today, as it was two years ago, we need new energy, new leadership and a renewed sense of urgency,” he added.
Political consultant Basil Smikle said no one in Harlem is surprised that Rangel is running again.
“Most voters in Harlem believed that he would run again. There’s no real signs of him slowing down,” said Smikle.
Rangel’s district was redrawn in 2010, adding a larger swath of The Bronx. With a growing number of Latinos in the district, many think a Latino candidate will eventually win the seat, shifting the power base to The Bronx from Harlem.
In addition to the changing demographics, Rangel will have to contend with a more experienced Espaillat, who will be running his second congressional campaign.
“He’ll have patched the holes. He won’t make the same mistakes,” Smikle said.
Rangel has also spent a good portion of his campaign funds on legal fees to challenge the censure while additional candidates like Waldron might siphon some of the incumbent’s support.
“Even with all the challenges I think Rangel would welcome a loss on the political battlefield rather than walk away,” Smikle said.