Despite Harlem Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel’s recent troubles, Craig Schley found himself running as an underdog with no chance of toppling the 38-year incumbent.
To combat his huge money and volunteer disadvantages, Schley used grassroots techniques to try to compete. Schley appeared almost daily at senior centers, bookstores and churches to introduce his platform. And on Election Day he canvassed the district.
“You are not going to get as grassroots as this,” Schley said. “It is one man trying to cover a huge district in a small period of time.”
From the beginning, Schley’s candidacy against Rangel under the slate Voices of the Everyday People for Change (VOTE People) has been an uphill battle. Schley’s campaign, with just 30 volunteers, has raised about $13,000, while the watchdog Web site opensecrets.org reported that Rangel has collected $4.82 million, or 323 times the money Schley has raised, for this election cycle.
“I am challenging Charles Rangel and with your support we can win,” the 45-year-old Schley yelled out of a bullhorn from a mini-SUV to residents on the streets of East Harlem on Election Day. “You do not have to vote for Rangel. You have a choice for president and Congress.”
Rangel, 78, has represented the 15th Congressional District since he defeated Adam Clayton Powell Jr. in 1970, making him the fourth longest serving Democratic member of the House. The district, which has nearly 400,000 registered voters, stretches from the Upper West Side to Washington Heights/Inwood, Rikers Island, and includes a part of northwestern Queens and the Bronx.
Rangel, chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, is under scrutiny by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct for failing to report taxable income from a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic and for leasing four rent-stabilized apartments in Manhattan. Still, some of Rangel’s constituents, like East Harlem resident Phil Jones, 49, are not concerned.
“Rangel has done nothing to me,” Jones said. “If the man got over, he got over. What he does is his personal business.”
Schley, who was born in Philadelphia, came to Harlem in the 1990s. He is a former firefighter and electrician who paid his way through New York University with money he earned as a fashion model for Wilhelmina. He was 39 when he received a bachelor’s degree in political science. After graduation, he interned for Rangel and worked as an assistant clerk for New York State Supreme Court Judge Faviola Soto.
“You got my vote brother!” said John Saunders, 41, who has been living in East Harlem for 15 years, after speaking to Schley at the corner of East 102 Street and Park Avenue. “Rangel has been in office for so long that we need a change. People who are in office so long, they forget about their constituents.”
On top of all the things going against him, Schley heard complaints about voting machines in the district not working. At noon on Election Day, he returned to the polling site where he voted to address problems. He asked his press secretary to send out a complaint to the New York State Board of Elections about the situation in many polling locations in Harlem.
“Right here in our backyard, you have machines breaking down,” Schley said. “People who want to vote for me are calling me to let me know.”
And making matters worse for Schley is a voter like East Harlem resident Tiffany Jackson, 57, who said she voted for all Democrats without knowing much about the candidates running other than Sen. Barack Obama.
“I don’t know much about the local elections,” Jackson said. “I know Charles Rangel, but I didn’t know about his opponent.”