HARLEM — The race to replace Congressman Charles Rangel unofficially kicked off Thursday night during the first public forum to feature a majority of the candidates.
Five of the eight people running for Congress introduced themselves to a room of more than 100 curious constituents and shared their thoughts on some of the most important issues facing the district.
Four of the five said their top priority is bringing more affordable housing to their neighborhoods. One said it was securing paid family leave.
The five candidates involved were former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook, stay-at-home father Michael Gallagher, State Assemblyman Guillermo Linares, former state Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, and former senior aid to President Bill Clinton Clyde Williams.
Here is a breakdown of the candidates:
Cook was born and raised in the district. She said she has the best balance of a home-town candidate who understands the community but also has experience in Washington and knows how to get things done. President Barrack Obama nominated her to a diplomatic role within the Department of State in 2011.
“So why am I running? Because I have experience and I care. I am a mom and I care about parents who bury their children far too early because of gun violence and whose sons are at risk to be frisked. I care because I see black and brown mothers piling into vans to visit their husbands in prison. I care because I want opportunities for every young person who wants to go to school just like my children do."
Gallagher has never been involved in politics. The stay-at-home father has background in computers and systems networking. He is running as the alternative to the political establishment. He believes the lack of affordable housing is the most important issue in the district and vowed to fight for federal funds to subsidize low-income housing and support development.
“Today a congressional seat which has been occupied by just two people since 1946 is vacant. Today I stand up to make a difference. I run for Congress and ask for your support to vote because I know I can shape the future to our needs and not special interests.”
Linares was the first Dominican to be elected to public office in 1991. The assemblyman joined all other candidates except Gallagher in touting his experience in government. He spoke about the need to protect small businesses as a means of creating jobs and vowed to secure tax breaks for mom and pop shops.
“They are being displaced just like families in this district. They are shutting down because they can’t afford the rent. I think we need to create the type of incentives that really allow small businesses to start up. We need to incentivize that because that’s a big source of employment in our neighborhood.”
The son of Charles Rangel’s predecessor mentioned his father five times during the night. Powell IV said he was “the most qualified candidate,” while highlighting his work in city, state, and federal government. Powell was the only candidate who did not say "housing" when asked what the most important issue they would work to accomplish if elected. His response was getting family paid leave.
"It's a shame that we are the only major country in the world without this type of benefit. When somebody get sick, when somebody is ill, when a woman gives birth, they have to worry about going back to work right away because again we don't have that. I think that's a big issue. Obviously I think equal pay for equal work is just as big if not bigger."
The former senior advisor to President Bill Clinton and political director of the Democratic National Committee displayed his policy background identifying various federal programs he could tap into to bring more funding to the district. To alleviate the affordable housing crisis, he proposed changing the federal guidelines used to determine affordability, which currently lump the city with Westchester and Rockland counties.
“I believe that it is time of us as a community to elect someone to congress that can actually fill the shoes of Charlie Rangel. Somebody who actually understands the importance of public policy and the impact that it has on the lives of people. Somebody who truly has an understanding, that can go to Washington, DC on day one and hit the ground running."