BEDFORD PARK — Rep. Charles Rangel came out swinging during a 13th Congressional District debate Wednesday night, ripping into his opponents for their perceived inexperience and telling the audience that now was not the time to send "trainees" to Washington.
The 84-year-old congressman jumped all over state Sen. Adriano Espaillat and the Rev. Michael Walrond from the start, criticizing Walrond for lacking political experience and accusing Espaillat of preparing an under-the-table run for re-election to the state Senate.
"Certain legislators want two bites at the apple, to run for Congress in June and get defeated and go back and run for the Senate," Rangel said during his opening remarks, prompting Espaillat to declare that he is not circulating petitions to run for re-election.
In turn, Espaillat criticized Rangel's votes on Wall Street reforms. He asked about Rangel's vote to repeal the Glass-Steagall reforms in 1999, saying the repeal led to the economic crisis.
"If you saw what happened with Glass-Steagall back in 1999, what led you to believe that diluting bank reform would help the economy?" Espaillat asked, repeating the same attack line that led an irate Rangel to pull out an iPad on Friday at a NY1-televised debate.
Rangel was ready this time. "Do you have any idea who [Rep. Barney] Frank is?" he asked, before saying that most Democrats supported scaling back the law.
"If you're going to stick with this, let's make it a deal — since you admit you're not an expert — to have experts to look at this law," Rangel said. "Let the record speak for it and not just what you think the law was."
Espaillat got other jabs in, too. When Rangel dodged a question from panelist Kate Taylor about whether someone making more than $170,000 should live in a rent-controlled apartment, the state Senator reminded the audience of Rangel's ethics violations.
"You shouldn't be able to take two or three rent-stabilized apartments," Espaillat said to applause from the crowd.
Walrond was not left behind, as he hammered both Rangel and Espaillat for being divisive and for talking about change.
"It is impossible for me to believe that my opponents have the capacity to even talk about change ... They've had 60 years to implement change," Walrond said. "I am not a talker, I am a worker. I am a doer."
Espaillat and Rangel traded barbs again on the topic of race, after both have been criticized for bringing racial politics into the campaign.
Rangel defended himself Wednesday evening, accusing Espaillat's campaign of sending out mailers saying that any Dominicans who did not support his campaign were "traitors."
"We never had any bloc of people against the other, and I hoped that this wouldn't happen," Rangel said.
Espaillat deflected the blame to Rangel, saying his opponent "would like to relive the West Side Story: the sharks versus the Jets."
Between the attacks, candidates spelled out their positions on multiple issues. Walrond and Espaillat said they were opposed to hydrofracking in New York state, while Rangel would support it with proper regulations. All three candidates said they think Airbnb should be legal in New York. And Espaillat and Walrond came out against the Common Core test standards, while Rangel said he favored empowering teachers.
When the time came for closing remarks, Espaillat said he was running for change, while Walrond drew large applause when he said he represented "transformation and empowerment, because change is used too loosely by people that don't embody it."
As for Rangel, he complimented Walrond and Esapillat for their passion but said the stakes were too high to send rookies to Congress.
"There are serious issues that this president is facing. I don't really think this is the time for trainees, no matter how passionate they are, to be going to the United States House of Representatives."