Swaggering Rangel Continues Offensive Against Espaillat in Second Televised Debate

The three candidates for the 13th Congressional District faced off in a NY1-sponsored debate tonight.

The three candidates for the 13th Congressional District faced off in a NY1-sponsored debate tonight.

Congressman Charlie Rangel had yet another question for his top rival, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, at tonight’s televised debate.

“Do you know who Frank is?” the congressman asked Mr. Espaillat, who had just challenged Mr. Rangel about votes on the Dodd-Frank Act, a 2010 law that brought sweeping regulations to the financial industry.

Mr. Espaillat sputtered. “Yes! He’s a member of Congress.” (Indeed, Barney Frank is a former Massachusetts congressman.)

It was just one example of how Mr. Rangel, a Harlem lawmaker for more than 40 years, openly mocked Mr. Espaillat, a legislator for half as long. The two men are locked in a bitter contest for the second time in two years and the Democratic primary for the 13th Congressional District is less than two weeks away. The race also includes Pastor Mike Walrond, a long-shot candidate who nevertheless brought a fervent group of supports to the NY1-sponsored debate at Lehman College in the Bronx.

Like in the first televised debate of the race last week, Mr. Rangel was on the attack often, calling Mr. Espaillat a “trainee” and tweaking him for losing the 2012 race, only to run for and win re-election to the State Senate that September. (Mr. Espaillat, who has not ruled out running for the senate again if he loses, dismissed the discussion as “inside baseball.”)

“He wants two bites out of the apple,” Mr. Rangel quipped.

The past week of the race has been dominated by the subject of race: Mr. Rangel claimed once more that Mr. Espaillat, a Dominican-American, is making racial appeals in the majority Latino district in upper Manhattan and the Bronx. Mr. Espaillat and his surrogates argue it is Mr. Rangel himself who is broaching the subject–Mr. Espaillat tonight called himself a “big tent” candidate.

“They would like to relive the West Side Story, you know the Sharks versus the Jets,” Mr. Espaillat said. “This is about issues that impact everybody. Housing is not a Dominican issue, it is not an African-American issue, it is not a white and Puerto Rican issue: housing is impacting families across this district.”

Mr. Rangel, who celebrated his 84th birthday today, charged it was Mr. Espaillat’s 2012 bid–which came after the district was redrawn to become majority Latino–that first brought about such divisions.

“We would all come together. The senator was always a part of this in seeing which people we were going to support in different parts of the district. So we never had any bloc of people against the other bloc and I had hoped this wouldn’t happen,” Mr. Rangel said, alluding once again to a controversial flier Mr. Espaillat circulated two years ago.

After the debate, Mr. Espaillat called Mr. Rangel a “liar.”

“If he has to reduce himself to that, that’s his choice. I want to talk about the issues that are important,” he said.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly said this was the final debate of the primary.