MANHATTAN — Congressman Charlie Rangel and State Sen. Adriano Espaillat ripped into one
another during a NY1 debate Thursday night, with Espaillat blaming Rangel for the rise of the Tea Party in Washington and Rangel slamming his chief rival as unqualified.
With less than two weeks to go before the Democratic primary, the fireworks began almost immediately as Rangel tore into Espaillat over reports his supporters have been circulating a petition to re-nominate him to the State Senate in case he loses the Congressional race. Espaillat insists he was unaware of the effort.
”For me to think that someone would have a petition out there for me unauthorized, I would be outraged and I would take it to the District Attorney’s Office,” said Rangel, who called on Espaillat to launch a full-scale investigation and offered to join the team.
But Espaillat shot back, zeroing in on Rangel’s 2010 censure by the house after he was found guilty of 11 ethics violations.
“The only one who’s been investigated in this table has been you, and it led to Democrats losing the majority in Congress,” charged Espaillat, who argued that Rangel’s censure was the primary cause of the Tea Party surge.
“Back in in 2010, the Congressman gave the Tea Party Republicans an early Christmas gift when he was censured,” said Espaillat. “He became a poster child for dysfunction in Washington.
“Now, to say that he wants to go back to Washington to help president Obama, when in fact president Obama suggested that he should… perhaps consider retiring, I think is a travesty,” he added.
Rangel’s other challengers were also on the attack and continued to push the point that, after four decades in office, it was time to pack his bags.
"It's a matter of him being antiquated," said candidate Craig Schley, a community activist.
"It's not a matter of anything other than good fruit staying on the vine too long, spoiling and falling off," he said.
Rangel, meanwhile, continued to defend his record, arguing that he is the most qualified man in the running.
“I’ve been there in the struggle and I really think I’m better qualified,” he said.
Still, he appeared somewhat stunned by the onslaught.
"This is the first time that this campaign has gotten so-called nasty,” he said.
Rangel is facing once of the toughest reelection battles of his career, as he tried to hold onto a newly redrawn district that is now majority Hispanic and include sections of the Bronx.
He is also being challenged by Clyde Williams, the former head of the Democratic National Committee under President Obama, who has stressed his Washington experience.
Full disclosure: The owner of DNAinfo.com, Joe Ricketts, made a contribution to the Campaign for Primary Accountability in 2011.