“Is the empty seat for the other person who’s running?” an audience member asked the moderator before the candidates running against Congressman Charlie Rangel introduced themselves in Washington Heights last evening.
“Since you asked it now, I’m happy to tell you now,” the moderator responded. “Hudson Heights has called Congressman Rangel’s office repeatedly and we were told a few days ago, and again today, that the congressman would be unable to be here.”
Mr. Rangel himself contested this explanation, insisting that he had never been invited, but regardless, the four challengers to Mr. Rangel in this year’s Democratic primary discussed federal policy issues without the sitting incumbent they are hoping to unseat.
And, as they were all progressive Democrats, there were very few disagreements that emerged. One of the candidates, Clyde Williams, critiqued State Senator Adriano Espaillat’s explanation for rising gas prices, insisting that larger geopolitical concerns were at fault in addition to regulatory issues. Mr. Williams also disputed Mr. Espaillat’s argument that the Northern Manhattan Empowerment Zone lacked significant resources to spend in the community.
Another candidate, Craig Schley, had even harsher criticism for Mr. Espaillat, accusing him of voting against rent regulations. Mr. Espaillat contended that he actually voted the complete opposite and his spokesman pointed us to an article about the candidate’s strident efforts supporting rent regulations.
The only audience member to engage the candidates in a critical fashion questioned a fourth candidate, Joyce Johnson, over her stated opposition to overregulating the financial industry. The individual accused Ms. Johnson of engaging in “meaningless platitudes” on the issue, to which Ms. Johnson clarified she definitely still supported additional regulations over the status quo.
The most notable disagreement of the night, oddly enough, might have been an intentionally lighthearted question about whether pennies and nickles should be eliminated. Mr. Williams immediately supported the concept while Ms. Johnson and Mr. Espaillat opposed it.
Mr. Schley had the most creative solution to the problem, asking, “Why don’t we just make a two-headed coin, right?”
Watch these moments, in addition to the candidates’ closing statements below: