Espaillat and Rangel Surrogate Clash Over Obama’s HUD

Congressman Charlie Rangel. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Congressman Charlie Rangel. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

At least one Congressman Charlie Rangel surrogate is fed up with his rival’s attacks on the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Congressman Gregory Meeks, a Queens lawmaker, ripped State Senator Adriano Espaillat today for his claim that HUD has been an “absentee landlord” in New York City. Mr. Meeks said that Mr. Espaillat’s critique amounted to an attack on President Barack Obama, who has become a focal point in the race.

“President Obama has not abandoned one single neighborhood in New York when it comes to affordable housing. Anyone who says that does not understand the policies and certainly does not understand or support the President’s housing agenda,” Mr. Meeks charged in a statement.

“With two years left in the Obama presidency, we need someone in Washington who will support the President’s housing agenda not attack it. Senator Espaillat’s lack of understanding on this issue makes me question whether he is ready for Congress,” Mr. Meeks added.

Both Mr. Espaillat and Mr. Rangel, the top two candidates vying for the upper Manhattan and Bronx-based seat, have jousted over their support for Mr. Obama’s agenda. Mr. Rangel has repeatedly argued he needs two more years in Washington to serve out Mr. Obama’s final term and help implement the president’s agenda; the Espaillat campaign, however, has pointed to dismissive comments Mr. Obama has made in the past about the longtime Harlem lawmaker.

Mr. Espaillat has also knocked Mr. Rangel for not pushing the federal government further to help the district, which still has several pockets of poverty. In a recent debate, he said that, “HUD must be again a real agency, they have been an absentee landlord for many, many years. They have abandoned our neighborhoods.”

In recent years, the federal agency has seen its budget slashed repeatedly. But Mr. Espaillat clarified today that he believed the disinvestment in HUD began under Republican President Ronald Reagan and insisted he did not mean to denigrate Mr. Obama.

“We’re not saying it’s Obama’s fault again, so maybe Congressman Meeks’ response felt we were criticizing the president and we’re saying that since the Reagan years, we have seen–and maybe even before–a retreat of housing investment in the urban cities across America,” Mr. Espaillat said.

Also running in the race are Pastor Mike Walrond and activist Yolanda Garcia. The Democratic primary is set for June 24.