Vincent Morgan arrives at the fashionable Harlem Tavern on 116th Street and Frederick Douglass, sharply dressed in a suit and tie, to make his case that he symbolizes a fresh type of Harlem politician.
Morgan, 42, expects to run again next year for New York’s 15th Congressional seat, which primarily covers Harlem, Inwood, Washington Heights and the Upper West Side. He challenged incumbent Charles Rangel in last year’s Democratic primary, but placed last of five candidates.
Still, Morgan isn’t worried. It’s more important that he “actually saw through, from beginning, middle, and end, a campaign,” says Morgan, a former community banker. “I talked to a lot of people and I think I laid the foundation to be the strongest candidate against Charlie Rangel in 2012.
“I know the street, and I know the issues,” he continues. “I’m looking forward to 2012 because I think people are ready for a change, and they’re ready for a change from someone who’s been here and raised their kids here.”
Born and raised in Chicago, Morgan moved to Harlem in 2000. Later, as chairman of the 125th Street Business Improvement District, managing aspects of upper Manhattan’s chief commercial artery, Morgan became familiar with residents, businesspeople and property owners.
Most recently, as a community banker at TD Bank, Morgan says he directed $25 million in direct investment in upper Manhattan to meet the bank’s Commercial Reinvestment Act obligations. The sum includes small business loans, grants to local nonprofits and about $20 million in commercial loans, often to construction developments with affordable housing components.
Morgan identifies “economic empowerment” –including creating jobs and establishing a class of local entrepreneurs — as his top campaign issue; he also emphasizes education, public safety and socially responsible development.
As a former employee of both the 125th Street Business Improvement District and the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corp., two influential uptown business groups, Morgan has strong local business ties. At both organizations, he worked closely with local business owners.
“I can read financial documents,” he says. “I know how to structure a deal.” While he pays respects to elder statesmen like Rangel, he also insists that “times have changed” and that it’s “time to progress.”
Morgan got his first taste of politics in 2001, when he worked for Rangel’s office as a special assistant. He describes Rangel as “old school: many elements of his personality are larger than life. He’s a very, very skilled politician.”
Morgan will invest $50,000 of his own money in his campaign, he says, and claims to have raised about $15,000 in the most recent quarter. But his profile page on the website of ActBlue, a nonprofit Democratic political committee listed on his official campaign website as the only online way to contribute, shows only $700 raised from four contributors for the current election cycle.
He need not officially report all contributions, however, until the Federal Election Commissions filing deadline of January 31.
His latest official campaign finance filings, for July 1 to September 30, report only a single contribution of $24,220, from Morgan himself, along with campaign expenditures of $6670. His campaign committee, Morgan for Congress, has raised no money this year.
Morgan says his target is to raise $500,000 by summer, but adds that fundraising isn’t everything in this race, where Rangel is expected to outspend everyone.
“If you think you can win this race by just buying it, then you forget who lives in this district,” Morgan says. “These people expect to be talked to, and money can only take you so far.”
In recent weeks, Morgan has drawn press coverage as a vocal critic of the West Harlem Local Development Corporation, currently under investigation by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Morgan has criticized the group as lacking accountability and proper organization and documentation.
Morgan himself started a business partnership in April 2004 in Chicago, called South Parkway Venture Group LLC, which eventually faced “involuntary dissolution.” A company usually faces involuntary dissolution for fraud, or for failing to maintain itself and register annual reports.
Morgan explains that he allowed the state to dissolve this partnership, set up specifically for a personal real estate purchase, after which it was no longer needed. He doesn’t find the incident noteworthy or improper.
Basil Smikle, a political strategist and adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, says of Morgan: “He represents a younger generation. He’s very smart, has a great sense of the community and has spent a good amount of time raising his family in Harlem.”
When Smikle ran unsuccessfully against State Sen. Bill Perkins in last year’s Democratic primary, he campaigned with Morgan, who got a “great reception,” he said. “He’s got some great relationships in the neighborhood.”
Morgan, however, only received 1210 votes in last year’s Democratic primary, of 52,602 votes cast. Nonetheless, he remains optimistic about 2012.
Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, Masters in Public Administration
University of Illinois at Chicago, BS in Management
Community banker, TD Bank (2006 – 2011)
Chairman, 125th Street Business Improvement District (2009 – 2011)
Marketing director, Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation (2004 – 2006)
Special assistant, NY 15th Congressional District Office (2001 – 2004)
Morgan resigned from TD Bank in March 2010 to focus on his Congressional campaign.
Morgan’s treasurer Reynaldo Snyden received a warning letter from the Federal Election Commission in April for failing to file a campaign finance report by the January 31 deadline. Ultimately no fine was levied. However, Morgan’s campaign committee Morgan for Congress has received at least three warning letters for improper filing.
Morgan has criticized the organization which distributes community funds connected to Columbia University’s Manhattanville campus expansion. “There needs to be more transparency on the expenditures and verification that those expenditures went to something tangible,” he says. “We shined a light on something important at a stage where we can correct it before any more money is outlaid.”