Rev. Michael A. Walrond Jr. Takes On Charlie Rangel in Race for Congressional Seat

The Rev. Michael A. Walrond Jr. knows he is the outsider. In the Democratic primary for the congressional seat carved out of

The Rev. Michael A. Walrond Jr. says his work at the Harlem church where he is the pastor shows his leadership qualifications. Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times
The Rev. Michael A. Walrond Jr. says his work at the Harlem church where he is the pastor shows his leadership qualifications. Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times

Harlem that now stretches into parts of the Bronx, Mr. Walrond trails far behind the longtime incumbent, Representative Charles B. Rangel, and State Senator Adriano D. Espaillat in the polls.

Voters are not familiar with Mr. Walrond. And outside of his church in central Harlem, he has no power base.

“I don’t know the man,” said Assemblyman Keith L. T. Wright, Democrat of Harlem, who has endorsed Mr. Rangel this year and is said by political insiders to want the seat for himself one day. “I look forward to getting to know him as pastor of First Corinthian Baptist Church.”

Attention from officials like Mr. Wright would be an achievement for Mr. Walrond, 43.

Taking on a political fixture like Mr. Rangel would have been an uphill climb for a Harlem native and seasoned politician. For Mr. Walrond, a son of immigrants from Barbados who was raised on Long Island, raised his own two children in New Jersey and moved to Harlem only in January, the candidacy has raised questions about his ultimate aim.

One school of thought, judging from interviews with a number of Harlem leaders, is that Mr. Walrond may simply hope to elevate his profile, taking on the sort of prominent clerical and community leadership role that the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church, has played.

Wherever his campaign leads, Mr. Walrond said, it is clearly the beginning of something. “Those of us who represent the next generation have to start opening doors,” he said.

Still, he has encountered skepticism.

“The good reverend has a phenomenal church and he’s done phenomenal work,” said Inez Dickens, a city councilwoman and close ally of Mr. Rangel’s. “But he has not been involved, to my knowledge, with any block association, political club, residents association, Nycha meeting.” (Nycha is an acronym for the New York City Housing Authority.)

“A lot of people want to get elected,” Ms. Dickens continued. “It’s whether you are prepared to do the work to get elected. Anyone can read the paper and say, ‘There’s high unemployment.’ But do you know what vehicle you can use to turn it around?”

Mr. Walrond readily admits that he has no legislative experience. But he describes his work as the senior pastor at First Corinthian, at 116th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, as a demonstration of the leadership necessary to change the community.

At a breakfast with leaders of small business in Harlem, in the backdrop of the glittering restaurants and big-box stores along 125th Street, he talked about the trenches of poverty, low college attainment rates, and, amid escalating real estate prices, a decrease of affordable housing around the district.

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Source: The New York Times | 

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