Seven Democrats looking to take over Charles Rangel's 13th Congressional District seat clashed over who is best positioned to carry on the long-time representative's work in a debate Monday that aired live on NY1.
The 90-minute event took place at Hostos Community College and was moderated by NY1's Errol Louis.
Among the participants were former Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, whose father lost his seat to Rangel in 1970; current state legislators Guillermo Linares, Keith Wright and Adriano Espaillat; Clyde Williams, the former Democratic National Committee political director and advisor to Bill Clinton; stay-at-home father Michael Gallagher; and faith leader and former ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook.
Two other candidates, Sam Sloan and Republican Tony Evans, did not participate.
Powell, Linares, Wright and Espaillat, who all served or currently serve in the state legislature, were asked what they specifically have done to improve the legislature's performance.
Powell juxtaposed his time in the Assembly against his time in the City Council.
"In the City Council, the budget process, for example, is more open, and delegations would meet and come back, and there was a back and forth, and that's how the budget was arrived. Not in the state Assembly, unfortunately. The budget is just three men in a room," Powell said.
Linares said there was a need to separate money from serving a constituency.
"I believe very strongly that unless you get money out of the business of government, you're not going to be able to deliver for the constituents and those who represent you in the community," he said. "And I believe we need financial reform. We need to get all the big fish out of the water when it comes to representing in the state government. And I think we need to have a strong change in ethics to be able to rescue our government for the people."
When specifically asked about ethics reform, Wright said there was a need to get so-called "dark money" out of politics.
"Some candidates talk about how they are for ethics reform, but they have these secret sort of dark super PACs that they are participating in in order to fund their campaigns," Wright said. "They can say they are for campaign finance, but they are participating in some dark money activities."
Espaillat said he believes in a full-time legislature, saying he does not have another job.
"You must get money out of politics. You must close the loopholes that allows special interest," he said. "Particularly the party accounts, the housekeeping accounts. Millions of dollars go into the party housekeeping accounts to influence decisions in Albany, to influence elections, to take the people, the people that are in this room, out of the elections of who is going to represent them. We must get rid of the housekeeping accounts."
Williams referenced "the political people in New York going to jail" and said the voters need to know whether any of the candidates are under any investigations.
"I pledge right now, and I would challenge everyone on this stage to pledge that they are not under any investigation whatsoever," he said. "Because what we don't need is months from now, Preet Bharara coming after anybody when they get elected to Congress that would damage the good name of this community and make certain that they're not doing anything that is against the good people of this community."
Gallagher said "nobody really knows what was passed" when it came to ethics reform in Albany, saying there were no hearings and no public events.
"Governor Cuomo, he offered four or five different options to try and change the rules, not selecting one that he actively sought support. So how much possibility was there for real reform when they had the whole session since April to talk about this in public, and they have not, they have not done anything publicly as it relates to this," he said.
All of the candidates were asked how they would work with Republican lawmakers if elected, particularly if the House ends up with a Republican majority.
Espaillat, Wright and Powell referenced their records passing legislation while working with a Republican-controlled state Senate.
"I was successful during the Pataki years, I was in the Assembly with a Republican-run Senate, to pass in-state tuition for undocumented students, which was the prelude of the Dream Act. We were able to do that in 2002 with a Republican governor and a Republican-led Senate," he said. "I think that I can get other people to cross over and support issues that are very relevant and important to us."
"I have passed over 90 pieces of legislation in the Assembly. I have chaptered more than 35 pieces of legislation signed by the governor. So all I've been doing is working to get things done with a majority state Senate," Wright said.
"One of the first things I did when I went to Albany was push to pass a minimum wage, a higher minimum wage, which many said it could not be done because the Republicans controlled the state Senate, but we got it done," Powell said.
Cook referenced her time working as a chaplain for the NYPD after the September 11th attacks and as an ambassador in Washington for U.S. religious freedom, where she said she attended Senate foreign relations committee hearings.
"You have to be able to build coalitions, and when we go to Congress, that's what we have to be able to do," she said. "Work certainly with the black and Hispanic caucuses that are there, but also build coalitions throughout, so that we can get legislation passed."
Williams talked about his time as the deputy chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, when he said he had to work with Republican senators like Jesse Helms.
"When you work at a place that has responsibility for both urban and rural issues, you have to work with people across the aisle," he said. "And I haven't done it in Albany. I have no desire to do it in Albany. But I've definitely done it at a very senior level in Washington D.C."
Gallagher said the issues faced in the district as it relates to housing and affordable care are issues faced in other districts, where there are not just Democrats.
"Renting, I say about a renter's tax credit that this is the same, if you go to Houston, if you go to Phoenix, if you go to other cities, it's all about trying to bring the issues to the fore," he said. "Criminal justice reform, the Republicans are looking for criminal justice reform. So it's more about the ideas you bring to the table and your ability to reach across the aisle, and I believe I can do that."
In the lightning round, all of the candidates said they supported a bailout of Puerto Rico, but none of them supported the use of a financial control board to oversee finances. They all also said they supported the closing of Rikers Island, though Gallagher said he did not believe there was a federal role.
All candidates, with the exception of Linares, said they felt Police Commissioner Bill Bratton should consider resigning when asked in the lightning round. All of the candidates also said they supported the use of medical marijuana, but only some of the candidates said they supported marijuana's legalization for recreational use.
Rangel is nearing the end of a nearly 50-year run representing the 13th Congressional District, which includes Harlem, Upper Manhattan, and part of the Bronx.
The primary vote is scheduled for June 28.