Espaillat, a state senator who nearly unseated the 22-term "Lion of Harlem" in 2012, said he doesn't plan on conceding until all the votes are counted, namely, the outstanding absentee ballots and provisional ballots.
More than 1,800 votes separate the challenger from the incumbent, who declared victory on Tuesday night at his campaign party after the precinct count gave him 47.4 percent of the vote compared to Espaillat's 43.6 percent.
The New York City Board of Elections said just 980 valid absentee ballots are waiting to be counted -- not nearly enough to hand Espaillat a victory, even if they all went to him -- an unknown number of provisional ballots still need to be examined and counted if valid.
Under city law, a district-wide manual count of votes is automatically triggered if the final margin between the top two vote-getters is less than half a percent.
In 2012, Rangel and media outlets declared the race over on election night. But the margin continued to narrow as absentee and provisional ballots were counted, and ultimately, just 1,100 votes separated the two candidates.
"As we learned in 2012, every single vote needs to be counted in this race. Given the thousands of votes outstanding, the people of upper Manhattan and the Bronx deserve a full accounting of every vote to achieve a complete and accurate tally in this race," Espaillat said.
Rangel's apparent victory Tuesday was narrower than recent polls predicted, but welcome news for a congressman who was almost abandoned by his party after ethical gaffes nearly forced him from the House in 2010. President Obama refused to endorse him, as he did in both 2010 and 2012, although Rangel did get a last-minute nod from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
But the real test for the 84-year-old, an African-American, came from the dramatic shift in demographics in his redrawn district. For the first time this year, the 13th District was majority Hispanic, thanks to the inclusion of primarily Dominican neighborhoods in Washington Heights and Inwood, an advantage to Espaillat, who would have been the first Dominican to serve in Congress had he been elected.
The vote counting will continue until July 2, as absentee ballots must have been postmarked by election day and must arrive at the Board of Elections by July 1. In the meantime, provisional ballots will be validated and will also be counted on July 2.