Zingers, policy nuances and memories of Harlem’s most celebrated representative dominated the first debate between Rep. Charles Rangel and his challengers state Sen. Adriano Espaillat and Rev. Michael Walrond on Thursday night.
The Bronx part of the district received little mention as the candidates sought to evoke the legacy of civil rights leader and former Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. at the site where he once preached, Abyssinian Baptist Church.
Mr. Rangel, who went on the offensive to affirm himself as the most experienced candidate, referenced the Marble Hill and Kingsbridge parts of his district as he said he owed everything in his life to his community.
“When they gave me parts of the Bronx, I was apprehensive until I found I even went to school in that part of the district, at DeWitt Clinton High School, when I was a kid,” he said in reference to 2012 redistricting that expanded the area he represents beyond Upper Manhattan.
Mr. Espaillat, who nearly defeated Mr. Rangel in the 2012 Democratic primary, used the debate to make the same criticism of large chain stores that he has stated during previous appearances in the Bronx.
“For far too long, this community has seen a model of development that has not worked,” he said. “We are subsidizing those big box stores that we see on 125th Street that are pushing businesses out. The small businesses are the biggest employers in our country and in our neighborhood. We need to support them.”
Rev. Walrond mentioned trips to the Bronx as he sought to portray voters in the 13th district as widely dissatisfied with Mr. Rangel and the status quo.
“As I have travelled throughout this district, I have seen and heard many things,” he said. “One thing I have heard consistently is that people are weary of career politicians. They are weary of persons who set a set of rules for themselves that they oftentimes don’t all the way honor.”
With the three candidates in agreement on most policy questions posed by moderator Maurice DuBois of WCBS, they mainly used the forum to charm the lively audience — and hurl criticism at each other.