There was a quite extraordinary scene yesterday before the start of the first debate for the congressional seat now held by Charlie Rangel. About a half dozen of his supporters, including his “political wife,” Inez Dickens, were gathered in front of the entrance to Manhattan News Network, where the debate was to be held. While Mr. Rangel sat in his town car across the street they kept up an energetic “Fired Up! Ready to Go” chant.
After Mr. Rangel emerged, he told them they sounded more like a victory party then a campaign rally, and then he quieted them down to address the press assembled there.
Mr. Rangel told reporters that he was determined to not let the race be consumed with negativity:
Some of the campaign people were saying. Why don’t you stop being a nice guy. I said I’m not a nice guy, I’m a political guy, and this campaign has been one of mutual respect. And it’s a campaign that I really believe that the candidates put out their credentials and the voters select and see which one is the best qualified. And certainly there is nothing that any of them are going to say or do that is going to cause me to personally be critical of them. So some people think I am tying my hand behind my back but I don’t expect that this is going to happen and I do hope by me saying this it will allow them some confidence that they don’t have to do anything like that.
Moments later, Mr. Rangel was asked how confident he was headed into the June 26 primary, and as he started to answer, again repeating how he hoped for a positive tone the rest of the way, his chief rival, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, walked by. Mr. Rangel beckoned him over as a show of solidarity. Mr. Espaillat however ignored his entreaties, saying, “sorry Congressman–the debate is in there.”
Mr. Rangel’s tone become noticeably darker, and he reminded reporters how he had helped elect Mr. Espaillat to the State Senate in 2010:
Well, that’s not the guy that I helped to become senator. Not by a long stretch. And the difference between this just not being an easy election is that we worked very hard for the senator and normally in our district being a nice guy is just bringing people together, finding out what people like to do, what their ambitions are, and where we are going to go from here. So this is a surprise to me and disappointing. Certainly it has nothing to with the sincerity of the political goals he would like to achieve. But I go back to what I said that is—its like applying for a job. I got the job, he wants the job. So here we go.
And with that, he headed into the debate studio.
The whole thing was pretty extraordinary. Take a look for yourself: