At the second, heated debate in this year’s Democratic primary contest over Rep. Charles Rangel’s seat, the Bronx part of the district appeared to mean different things to the contenders.
The incumbent suggested the 2012 expansion of his 13th district to include Kingsbridge, Van Cortlandt Village and other parts of the Bronx had emboldened a onetime supporter to challenge him.
“It was he who named me the lion of Lennox Avenue,” Mr. Rangel said of Mr. Espaillat during a mocking fake phone call that took up most of the incumbent’s three minutes reserved for opening remarks. “What happened was, they changed the lines,” Mr. Rangel told an imaginary caller. “When he looked at what happened in the Bronx, he thought he could win.”
After Mr. Rangel’s introduction — which appeared to floor both audience members and the other candidates at St. Luke A.M.E. Church in Harlem — and several rounds of questions and answers later, Mr. Espaillat referenced the Bronx to depict Mr. Rangel as out of touch with his own district.
“You have Vietnamese immigrants right on University Avenue and Fordham,” Mr. Espaillat said while rattling off different ethnic groups and their neighborhoods. “I don’t know if you know that, Congressman Rangel, but they’re there.”
For his part, Rev. Michael Walrond, the Harlem pastor who is underdog in the race, criticized Mr. Espaillat and Mr. Rangel as career politicians incapable of effecting change.
Still, Mr. Rangel’s unconventional opening comments, in which he also mocked Rev. Walrond’s attempts to energize new voters, set the tone for the evening. Mr. Rangel went on to say Mr. Espaillat has been ineffective in Albany and to mock Rev. Walrond’s community activism while arguing his record of passing laws during 22 terms so far makes him the best candidate for the office.
“We’re not praying,” Mr. Rangel asserted. “We’re not just talking. We’re legislating. The congress is not a praying body. It’s a legislative body.”