Congressman Charlie Rangel wanted to talk.
Adriano Espaillat, a state senator and top rival, had just labeled Mr. Rangel’s mock phone conversation during a Wednesday night debate “an embarrassment.” The Hotel Trades Council, a union with growing clout, was about to back Mr. Espaillat. And the 83-year-old, facing what many see as an uphill battle, was left to reflect, in a wide-ranging interview, on what could be an unceremonious end to a nearly half-century-long political career.
“These campaign people are afraid that what I’m going to say to you is damaging to me,” Mr. Rangel said as he opened a half-hour phone interview yesterday with the Observer. “My conversation here can change the whole campaign.”
In the second debate of the 13th Congressional race, Mr. Rangel stunned the audience and inspired a segment on The Daily Show when he pulled out his cell phone and proceeded to chide both of his opponents, Mr. Espaillat and Pastor Mike Walrond, in a lengthy imaginary phone conversation. The tactic was intended to mock the allegedly thin résumés of Mr. Walrond and Mr. Espaillat. Both contenders, unsurprisingly, took offense.
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Mr. Rangel explained that he came up with the idea because he figured the debate moderators would never ask the proper questions.
“I knew looking at the format, there would be no questions there dealing with any accomplishments. I knew the center sponsoring this was just as much concerned with their agenda,” he said. “There were questions about poverty, homelessness and what not, and public officials have same emotion about the same issues including the minister [Mr. Walrond], but none of the topics appeared to suggest who would be better prepared to do the job.”
“I also knew who won and who lost could be considered on who brought the most people here, who shouted the loudest, who was entertaining,” said Mr. Rangel, whose supporters were far outnumbered in the church.
Mr. Rangel’s seat in Congress, now spanning upper Manhattan and the Bronx, has been threatened before. Mr. Espaillat nearly ousted him in 2012, coming within 1,100 votes of victory in the now-majority Latino district. And two decades ago, Adam Clayton Powell IV ran a furious but unsuccessful challenge.
But the congressman–who is on the cusp of losing the endorsement of every influential labor union in the city, and was already denied the backing of major city pols like Comptroller Scott Stringer and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito–has never been so endangered.
Mr. Rangel recalled one elected official, whom he refused to name, “balling up his fist with utter contempt” and telling the Harlem lawmaker his defection was “political, not personal.”
“How the hell are you going to hurt an old man?” he said when asked whether he was upset or offended by the defectors.
Read more at http://observer.com/2014/05/charlie-rangel-reflects-on-a-race-not-going-his-way/#ixzz31vy6SHtU