Adam Clayton Powell IV Again Seeks Father’s Former Seat in Congress

On the corner of Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, Adam Clayton Powell IV stood with dozens of campaign flyers under his left arm, anticipating the arrival of evening commuters emerging from the subway stop.

“I think they’re coming out,” he said to one of his volunteers before they positioned themselves near an entrance to the train station and handed out flyers written in Spanish and English.

The commuter hub in the center of the Bronx rests on the eastern edge of a recently redrawn congressional district that stretches south to Harlem and the northern half of Central Park. Once comprising mostly black communities, the 13th Congressional District now has a mostly Hispanic population. “I hope I will get your support next month,” Mr. Powell said to passers-by as they were exiting the station, which is in a Hispanic neighborhood. Some nodded their heads, shook hands with him and took selfies.

  • Name: Adam Clayton Powell IV
  • Age: 54
  • Home Neighborhood: East Harlem
  • Party Affiliation: Democrat
  • Current Office/Job: Consultant/Lobbyist

Nearly a half-century after his father, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., lost his seat in the House of Representatives to Charles B. Rangel, the younger Powell is hoping to become his successor. Mr. Rangel, the dean of New York’s congressional delegation, is retiring at the end of this term.

“For 72 years, only two people have represented this district,” said Mr. Powell, one of the nine candidates who will face off in a primary contest on June 28. “It’s a great opportunity.”

Mr. Powell has long coveted the congressional seat tied to Harlem, which until 2012 was the 15th Congressional District and covered predominantly black neighborhoods in Manhattan. But after the boundaries were redrawn, the area became the 13th Congressional District and now also encompasses several Hispanic neighborhoods.

Mr. Powell, a former New York City councilman and State Assembly member, ran against Mr. Rangel in 1994 and 2010. But he endorsed Mr. Rangel in 2012 and 2014.

Now Mr. Powell is seeking to distinguish himself from Mr. Rangel. During his appearance at the Fordham Road subway stop, he took jabs at Mr. Rangel, saying that by holding onto the seat for nearly a half-century, the representative has denied many political hopefuls a chance to serve in Congress.

“I’ll never do that,” Mr. Powell said. “I served in the city council for two terms, six years, and I left voluntarily. I could have stayed. I was in the State Assembly for 10 years, which was five terms, and I left voluntarily. I don’t believe we should stay in there forever.”

The district’s new demographics could benefit Mr. Powell. His father was black and his mother was Puerto Rican, and he also speaks Spanish. He is trying to cultivate a robust base among Hispanic voters and said that Mr. Rangel had overlooked Hispanic voters throughout his tenure.

Mr. Powell’s father, the first black member of Congress to represent New York, and Mr. Rangel are both larger-than-life figures in Harlem politics. They faced allegations of financial and ethical misconduct, balked at pressure to resign and still won re-election.

Mr. Powell said his father had been “supportive of the new voices in New York.”

“He was a man of the people. Unfortunately, we’ve moved away from that,” he said. “Under Congressman Rangel’s reign, you can’t talk to him if you’re not a part of a political club. I plan to change that and open the door.”

Mr. Powell’s relationship with Mr. Rangel began 36 years ago when the representative gave Mr. Powell an internship on Capitol Hill. They talked at the time about the 1970 election that ended the elder Powell’s congressional career.

The name of Mr. Powell’s father still resonates throughout the streets of Harlem. A state office building and boulevard were named in his honor after he died in 1972. But the younger Mr. Powell said his name recognition has not helped him.

Mr. Powell played down his two failed congressional bids against Mr. Rangel and said he has a stronger “street operation and ground game” this time around.

At the subway stop, Julio Brito, a man Mr. Powell approached on the street, had bad news for the candidate: He said he is voting for Adriano Espaillat.

“You have more time to think about it,” Mr. Powell said, then burst into laughter and exchanged a firm handshake.