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New York congressman Rangel urges unity after hard-fought race

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. Representative Charles Rangel of New York on Wednesday called for unity after declaring victory in the Democratic primary for his district, as multiple news organizations called him the winner.

The campaign pitted Rangel, an African-American who has been the face of Harlem politics for more than 40 years, against state Senator Adriano Espaillat, who had hoped to become the first Dominican-American elected to Congress.Two years ago, Espaillat came within 1,000 votes of ousting Rangel after the district boundaries were redrawn moving it from majority black to majority Latino. Voters largely chose their candidate along ethnic lines, exit polls showed.

"I hope to begin the healing process of some of the division that was created during the course of the campaign," Rangel said in a statement.

Rangel, who is 84, also said he planned to attend a "unity rally" on Saturday with Reverend Al Sharpton, a civil rights leader whose headquarters is in the district.

A spokeswoman for Sharpton said Espaillat has not yet responded to the invitation.

Espaillat, who is 59, did not concede defeat after the vote on Tuesday, even as NY1, a local television news station, called the race in Rangel's favor. On Wednesday, the Associated Press also declared Rangel the winner.

With 100 percent of election districts reporting, Rangel held an 1,828-vote lead over Espaillat, out of the nearly 48,000 votes that had been counted, according to NY1.

Hundreds of absentee ballots in the district, which includes Manhattan's Harlem and Washington Heights, and part of the Bronx, were yet to be counted and verified, according to the New York State Board of Elections. The majority of Washington Heights' population is Dominican.In this liberal bastion of New York City, where blacks and Latinos form the majority, the winner of the Democratic primary is all but guaranteed to win the general election for the House of Representatives seat in November.

Rangel, who entered Congress in 1971, was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

But his political brand was dealt a serious blow in 2010, when he was censured by the House after failing to pay taxes on rent he earned from a property in the Dominican Republic and misusing his office to secure fundraising.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere and Edith Honan in New York; Editing by Susan Heavey)

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