Rep. Charles Rangel may be facing the toughest re-election fight of his political career this year, and the sparks were flying as the candidates squared off in their first debate Thursday. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
This year's Democratic primary in the 13th congressional district is attracting plenty of attention. So much attention, that hundreds were turned away from Thursday night's debate at the Abyssinian Baptist Church.
Those inside saw the challengers mixing it up with the incumbent, Charles Rangel.
"The congressman continues to talk and tout about his relationships with the president, and how he wants to complete his term, when, in fact, the president asked him to step down several years ago," said state Senator Adriano Espaillat of the Bronx.
“The senator keeps talking about my relationship with the president," Rangel said. "I just would like the record to state that in the last few months, I have been, in every month, invited to the White House to deal with the president.
For Espaillat, it's a rematch of 2012, when he nearly toppled Rangel in a surprisingly close race.
Rangel, for his part, weighed in topics from jobs to immigration to gentrification in Harlem.
"What we really have to do is put a moratorium on luxury housing and to make certain that we have zoning only for affordable housing."
While often talked about as a two-man race, it was a third candidate, the Rev. Michael Walrond, who may have stolen the show. Sounding very much the preacher, he, too, took some swipes at the congressman.
"People are weary of career politicians," Walrond said. "They are weary of persons who set a set of rules for themselves that they often times don't always honor."
"If I thought for one minute that either one of you two could go to Washington and do a better job, I would be home with my wife and my grandkids," Rangel said.
Thursday's debate is just round one in what promises to be a tough fight over the next two-and-a-half months. The three candidates face off in the Democratic primary on June 24.