Neither Congressman Charles Rangel nor his prospective challengers made a strong enough pitch to one of the city’s most active grassroots political groups to clinch an endorsement at a meeting of the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club on Monday night.
Members of the club voted to defer their decision on an endorsement, which would bring the support of about 300 volunteers and the imprimatur of a group that counts Congressman Eliot Engel and all three of Riverdale’s city and state officials as members.
Still, the event gave voters a preview of the tough contest to come, with Mr. Rangel seeking to assert himself as far more experienced in national politics than his challengers. Meanwhile, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who nearly beat Mr. Rangel in the 2012 Democratic primary, touted his Bronx and citywide credentials and Rev. Michael Walrond presented himself as a political newcomer who can build bridges.
“I’d like to know, since I have to go to many clubs, as to why anyone thinks that the candidates who are running can do a better job than I, who served,” said Mr. Rangel, who is seeking his 23rd term.
At the club’s packed, small office at 304 W. 231st St., audience members quizzed the candidates about topics ranging from New York’s debate over universal preschool to U.S. ties to Israel. Highlighting Israeli security as a priority to members of the club, all three candidates said they strongly support the Jewish state.
Still, an almost folksy atmosphere pervaded the event — the first one featuring all three candidates at once — with club members taking a mild tone and the rivals discussing their political approaches more than differences over issues. There was no opportunity for Mr. Espaillat, Mr. Rangel and Rev. Walrond to debate each other after they took turns speaking.
During his turn at the front of the narrow room, Mr. Espaillat, who earned the club’s endorsement in 2012, called on his experience representing Riverdale before state Senate redistricting two years ago.