Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Manhattan/Bronx) speaks to supporters in East Harlem...

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Manhattan/Bronx) speaks to supporters in East Harlem after claiming victory against opponent State Senator Adriano Espaillat in the Democratic primary in Manhattan Tuesday, June 24, 2014. Credit: Craig Ruttle

New York's longest-serving congressman, Rep. Charles Rangel, held a 4 percentage-point lead over the leading challenger to his bid for a 23rd term in nearly complete returns Tuesday night and claimed victory.

"This was your victory. This is your congressman," Rangel told supporters at his primary night celebration in the gymnasium of the Taino Towers housing complex in East Harlem.

The Harlem Democrat was ahead by 1,904 votes in one of the toughest election battles of his career, which he said would also be his last, win or lose.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Rangel had 47.5 percent to challenger State Sen. Adriano Espaillat's 43.5 percent. Harlem minister Michael Walrond had 8 percent and Bronx activist Yolanda Garcia 1.1 percent.

Espaillat was not ready to concede.

"We feel this race is too close to call," Espaillat said at his event at 809 Bar and Grill in upper Manhattan's Inwood section.

Rangel, 84, first elected in 1970, was for decades one of the nation's most influential black elected officials, but his influence has waned since his 2010 censure by peers in the U.S. House of Representatives over ethics violations forced him to surrender the chairmanship of the powerful taxwriting Ways and Means Committee.

Espaillat, 59, who would have been Congress' first Dominican-born member, had stumped as the face and voice of change in a district that in recent years underwent a demographic shift to include more Latinos.

Espaillat, of Washington Heights, lost a 2012 primary challenge to Rangel by less than 1,000 votes. For their rematch, he was endorsed by several politicians and unions that had thrown their weight behind Rangel two years ago: City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and the United Federation of Teachers among others.

Rangel still had support from longtime allies such as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Sen. Charles Schumer, former President Bill Clinton -- who recorded a robocall to voters on Rangel's behalf -- and former Gov. David A. Paterson.

The campaign had been embroiled in racially tinged controversy, which prompted Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Rev. Al Sharpton to step in and denounce discussions of race or nationality from either side.

Rangel at a debate earlier this month criticized Espaillat for fliers his 2012 campaign distributed saying a Dominican legislator had betrayed his community by backing Rangel. Rangel also alleged Espaillat had not done anything for the district "besides saying he's a Dominican."

Rangel and Espaillat together spent nearly $1.2 million campaigning, according to federal campaign finance disclosures.Rangel raised $1,028,426, had $836,326 in operating expenditures. Espaillat raised $510,934, had $350,599 in operating expenditures. Walrond raised $181,400, had $159,717 in operating expenditures.

In other contested Democratic congressional primaries around the city, Bronx Rep. Jose Serrano defeated publisher and chess expert Sam Sloan, and Rep. Nydia Valezquez, representing parts of Manhattan, Queens and Bronx, beat attorney Jeff Kurzon.

With Maria Alvarez

and Ivan Pereira

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