Wearing pressed suits, snazzy ties, campaign buttons and large, unnaturally perky smiles, state assembly Democratic candidate Robert J. Rodriguez (D) and Rep. Charles Rangel shook hands with commuters while wishing them a good day on their way into the 116th and Lexington Avenue subway station early Wednesday morning.
Rangel, who had won the primary against Adam Clayton Powell IV, was there to support Rodriguez, a candidate who is running to fill Powell’s empty seat as well as campaign for his own reelection. Ironically, Powell stepped down as state Assemblyman representing the 68th Assembly district – the same seat Rodriguez hopes to fill – in order to run against Rangel. To add an even bigger twist, Rangel had supported Rodriguez’s opponent, John Ruiz, during the primaries. Ruiz is now on the Working Families ticket, though he is not expected to win the race.
While he had held meet-and-greet events with morning commuters during the primary, this was Rangel’s first appearance with Rodriguez, according to Bob Liff, Rangel’s press contact.
Rangel expressed his confidence in the duo’s campaigns. “We’re running hard and we don’t take anything for granted. That’s why we’re out here,” Rangel said. “We’re out here asking the people for their support in the general election.”
Volunteers in plain clothes only identifiable by their matching Rangel and Rodriguez campaign buttons accompanied the candidates. The squad eagerly ushered passers-by to shake hands and take photos with the two local politicians. Many hesitantly met the two men while others eagerly pleaded strangers to take a photo of them with the “dream team” despite the fact that they would probably never see the photo again.
Yale educated Rodriguez, who is a native of East Harlem and of Puerto Rican decent, made his commitment to his community clear. “State government in Albany has been ignoring the needs of New Yorkers – particularly New Yorkers in this area. I think there’s no question, the demographics don’t lie. We still have the lowest income levels, the highest rate of health disparities. We can’t continue to have the highest percentages within all of those categories and say that those issues are being suitably addressed,” Rodriguez said.
East Harlem’s unemployment rate currently rests at a staggering 14%, while the national unemployment rate is 9.5%. Rodriguez hopes to lower the community’s unemployment rate to at least that of the national average.
Rodriguez, who’s campaign website gives only a few pieces of information about the candidate, comes from a political family. His late father, Robert Rodriguez Sr., represented City Council district 8. In 2009 Robert J. Rodriguez unsuccessfully ran for his father’s seat.
As chairman of Community Board 11, Rodriguez helped pass the East River Plaza mall project in hopes of bringing jobs to East Harlem. Campaign volunteer, Emma Jackson, believes that projects such as this do bring jobs to East Harlem – but to outsiders – not to community members. She hopes Rodriguez will change things for the better.
“He’s young. He’s got energy. He comes with the least amount of personal and professional and political baggage, which means he doesn’t have to give into a lot of things that some of the other candidates have to,” Jackson said. “And, I think he can be more open and listen to the people and hear their concerns.”