HELL’S KITCHEN — The claws are out.
Candidates vying to oust Rep. Charlie Rangel spent his first debate appearance of the campaign ripping into the longtime Congressman for failing to retire.
Wearing a bright pink tie and matching handkerchief, Rangel fended off attacks from challengers, including State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, at the event Monday night.
Espaillat said it was time for him to step aside after 21 terms in office.
“I think that what happens very often is when one feels, when they’ve been on a job too long, that there’s absolutely nobody on the planet that could do as good as a job as you,” said Espaillat inside the studios of the Manhattan News Network, which hosted the debate along with the League of Women Voters of the City of New York.
“I think that’s fundamentally flawed.”
Rangel is facing one of the toughest re-election battles of his career as he squares off against a handful of opponents, including Espaillat, for a newly drawn district that now has an Hispanic majority.
Espaillat, who is being backed by the Campaign for Primary Accountability, a Texas-based PAC that is challenging incumbents in congressional elections, said that the new district lines present a unique opportunity for new leadership.
“I think this juncture in history provides the historic opportunity for change, to turn the page,” said Espaillat, pointing to Congressmen Gary Ackerman and Ed Town, two long-time Congressmen who decided to step down this year.
“I think it is time for change. It’s in the air,” he said.
Another opponent, community activist and former model Craig Schley, suggested that Rangel was out of touch with immigrants in his district and too entrenched in Washington.
"You’re not going to be able to convince anyone on the other side of aisle when you’re entrenched and you’re tied down to all the old policies,” he said.
But Rangel staunchly defended his record and said that, regardless of how long he's been in power, he remains the most qualified.
“I look at it as though they’re applying for my job,” explained the Congressman. ”We’re all putting in our applications.”
But sizing down the competition, he said, “I kind of think that the job would be weighted in my favor."
He also took issue with Espaillat’s assertion that Rangel feels “nobody on the planet could do as good a job” as him.
“I never said that," Rangel said.
"I just said nobody running could do the job better than me,” he said, chuckling, after the debate.
The other candidates vying for the seat are Upper West Side businesswoman Joyce Johnson, who has been stressing her private sector savvy, and Clyde Williams, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, who has been touting his experience in Washington, D.C.
The primary is on June 26.
Full disclosure: The owner of DNAinfo.com, Joe Ricketts, made a contribution to the Campaign for Primary Accountability in 2011.