The nation's smallest, and most dense, congressional district, is New York’s 13th Congressional District. The tiny 13th occupies only 10.25 square miles of land area (or 12.98 square miles of total area, including water, if you prefer); according to the 2010 Census, that’s 69,994 people per square mile. There are only four other congressional districts that are smaller than 20 square miles; unsurprisingly, they’re also all in New York City, but the 13th edges out the others as the smallest.
The 13th’s ancestor districts (for instance, it was the 15th, in the 2000s) were limited only to the northernmost parts of Manhattan, especially Harlem, Washington Heights, and Morningside Heights. Due to 2012 redistricting, however, saw it expand into the Bronx. Traditionally, this was an African-American district, with Harlem's main corridor, 125th Street, and attractions like the Apollo Theater, at its core. However, at this point, the district has a Hispanic majority, with a large Dominican population in Washington Heights and Inwood, and Puerto Ricans in Spanish Harlem. And 55 percent of its residents are Hispanic in 2014, but thanks to gentrification, the fastest-growing demographic in this district may actually be whites, currently at 14 percent of the district.
While the 13th defeats its next-door neighbor, the entirely Bronx-based 15th, for the honors of smallest-district, the 15th edges out the 13th for the title of bluest district. The 15th gave 95 percent of its vote to Barack Obama in 2008 and 96.7 percent in 2012, while the 13th lagged behind at only 93 percent Obama in 2008 and 94.6 percent in 2012. The 13th also earns “Most District” honors in several other categories that you’d associate with big-city living: highest percentage of people living in buildings with 20 or more units (77.3 percent), highest percentage of workers who commute by public transportation (71.5 percent), and highest percentage of households that have no access to a vehicle (75.8 percent).
Given those presidential numbers, you’d expect the 13th to elect a Democratic House member, and in fact it’s elected one of the most long-serving members for many decades. Since 1971, this area has been held by Charlie Rangel (though he’s also represented the 18th, 19th, 16th, and 15th, as the district’s numbers change over the years). With that seniority, Rangel has been a powerful member of the House’s liberal flank for a long time, and during the Democratic Party’s brief return to power in the late ‘00s, he was chair of the Ways and Means Committee. Rangel was one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus; Rangel has a Puerto Rican father, but isn’t also a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Rangel stepped aside in March 2010 as Ways and Means chair, though, in the face of an Ethics investigation; he was then censured by the Ethics Committee. Between that, his advanced age (he’s currently 85), and the changing demographics of his district, that looked like it would spell the end to Rangel’s career. However, he stuck around for the 2012 and 2014 elections, narrowly winning primaries against Dominican state Senator Adriano Espaillat both times. Rangel has finally thrown in the towel for 2016, and the race to replace him will be intense: Espaillat is back for another try, but so is fellow Dominican state Asm. Guillermo Linares. The district still has a large black electorate, so former DNC political director Clyde Williams, state Sen. Bill Perkins, state Asm. Keith Wright, and ex-state Asm. Adam Clayton Powell IV are all in the hunt too. (Powell is the son of Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the Rep. that Rangel defeated in the Democratic primary in 1970 to first win office.)
“The Most District” is an ongoing series devoted to highlighting congressional district superlatives around the nation. Click here for all posts in this series.