HARLEM — The two candidates for the District 9 City Council seat engaged in a fierce back and forth at a candidate's forum Tuesday night that ended with both hopefuls yelling into the microphone in an attempt to outtalk one another.
Incumbent Inez Dickens, who is seeking a third term on the council, and former community banker and aide to Rep. Charles Rangel Vincent Morgan engaged in a heated debate on everything from development and jobs to Morgan's accomplishments and qualifications to properties owned by Dickens and her family, who face city violations and back taxes.
"You have to prove you deserve a third term," Morgan said near the end of the forum at The Friendship Church on West 131st Street that started off relatively calmly.
Dickens, who is considered a leading candidate for Speaker to replace Christine Quinn should she win, took offense and criticized Morgan.
"I am not a carpet bagger or a community banker who did nothing," said Dickens.
Issues with fines for building violations and back taxes on properties owned by Dickens and her family was also an issue. The New York Post reported recently that Dickens owes $265,000 on unpaid back taxes, violation fines and water bills on four buildings her family owns.
Dickens has said Morgan is responsible for fliers posted around Harlem calling her a "slumlord millionaire."
She said the issue was being raised by "opponents who do not want a black woman from Harlem to be Speaker."
"I am not involved in daily operations but I am not going to walk away from the fact that my family owns the building," she said.
Morgan said the issue was fair game.
"She has to take responsibility," Morgan said after the debate. "You lose credibility on an issue like this when it comes to representing people."
Dickens says Morgan is focusing on the issue because he has no record to run on.
"It's not about rhetoric. It's about what you've done," Dickens said.
Dickens continued to defend herself after the debate.
"I live in one of my buildings," Dickens said when approached by a woman after the debate who asked about the buildings.
"Do you live in a slum?" she asked a man who said he was one of her tenants.
The man shook his head no.
The candidates sparred on a number of issues.
Dickens said she was heavily involved with the effort to keep Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing Arts open, funding programs there with city funds and regularly speaking with the students. Morgan criticized Dickens for not being more involved before Wadleigh faced closure.
On the issue of supportive housing such as drug treatment facilities, which many people feel are over-concentrated in lower income and black and Latino neighborhoods, Dickens said she is not against them but that they need to be spread out more evenly over the five boroughs.
Morgan blamed Dickens for the problem.
"Certain elected officials were silent. There wasn't an effort to confront that earlier on," Morgan said.
The candidates couldn't even agree on access to healthy food.
Morgan, answering a question from the audience, said access was just one part of the problem, and that residents might need to be educated on how to prepare healthy foods.
"Most of us have pots and pans," Dickens quipped to laughter from the audience.
The audience was stacked with supporters for both candidates who cheered and held up signs when each one spoke.
During the forum, Dickens' supporters handed out a packet criticizing Morgan for running for personal gain.
"He has been beaten, lost several consecutive races, because he lacks credibility," read notes attached to the flier.
Stanley McIntosh and Jack Weisberg, president and vice-president, of the group that sponsored the forum, said they were hoping it would be more calm.
"This was supposed to be a place for everyone to present themselves," Weisberg said.
Julius Tajiddin, founder of the grassroots group Preserve Harlem's Legacy, said he has often fought and disagreed with Dickens on issues ranging from traffic plans to the rezoning of 125th Street, but that the forum showed she has more of a track record than Morgan.
"You don't have to be an elected official to get something accomplished," Tajiddin said.
Nelson Harris, 57, a supervisor with the Metropolitan Transit Authority who came to the forum to help him decide who to vote for, said he left just as unsure as he had come.
"It was just too much noise, too much confusion," he said about the forum. "I wanted more credible answers and responses from the problems we face from both of them."