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Charles Rangel, Challengers Square Off In First Congressional Debate

Candidates for the 13th congressional seat participate in a debate on April 10, 2014, in Harlem. (credit: CBS 2)

Candidates for the 13th congressional seat participate in a debate on April 10, 2014, in Harlem. (credit: CBS 2)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Two candidates looking to replace Rep. Charles Rangel in Congress wasted no time in using his long career and an ethics scandal against him in the first Democratic primary debate for the 13th Congressional District.

During the debate, held at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem on Thursday night and moderated by CBS 2’s Maurice DuBois, Rangel touted his experience and relationship with President Barack Obama, and said he could do the best job for the district’s constituents.

“If I thought for one minute that either one of you two can go to Washington, I’d be home with my wife and my grandkids,” he said.

He also said, “I am not married to this job just to stay here until I drop dead.”

But the Rev. Michael Walrond Jr. emphasized the district didn’t need a career politician, saying during a discussion of housing issues, “You cannot critique a problem you were a part of.”

State Sen. Adriano Espaillat charged that the president had asked Rangel to step down several years ago during the ethics controversy.

Obama never officially got involved in the controversy, but made comments at the time that implied Rangel should step down.

The House censured Rangel in 2010 for various financial actions, including failure to pay all his taxes, filing misleading financial statements and improperly seeking money from corporate interests.

Espaillat said, “I think this district has taken a wrong turn. It has wandered into the wilderness.”

One issue DuBois asked the candidates to address was charter schools.

“I will not support — unequivocally will not support — the privitization of the public school system,” Espaillat said.

“The issue is do we care about our children,” Walrond said. “I am not anti-charter, but I am pro-children.”

Rangel said the educational system needs to be shaken up.

“The United States of America is behind in science, behind in math, behind in technology, and the truth is we’re paying more money than any other nation per pupil,” he said.

The 83-year-old Rangel, who first won election to Congress in 1970, has faced more competition in recent years than the wide-open victories he experienced in other parts of his career. In 2012, he beat Espaillat in an election that came down to a victory margin of about a thousand votes.

Both men have already been touting endorsements, such as New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for Espaillat, and Sen. Charles Schumer for Rangel, as well as union support.

Walrond, senior pastor at First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, is part of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.

The district covers part of northern Manhattan and some of the southern part of the Bronx. In 2012, it was about 55 percent Hispanic, 27 percent black, and 12 percent white.

The primary election is June 24. The winner is widely expected to go onto victory in the general election in November.

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