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First Bronx debate left empty chair for Rangel

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Who will be the Bronx’s newest Congressman?

Will it be the incumbent Rep. Charles Rangel — whose district will include portions of the borough for the first time — or one of four challengers who debated on BronxNet Monday to introduce themselves to Bronx voters?

A chair had been reserved for Mr. Rangel, though he did not show, citing a previous engagement. But state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, Joyce Johnson, Craig Schley and Clyde Williams politely shared the stage and made their pitches, each explaining why he or she was the best candidate to represent Congressional District 13, a district that is three-quarters Manhattan and one-quarter Bronx, including Kingsbridge, Kingsbridge Heights, Van Cortlandt Village, Norwood, University Heights and Bedford Park.

The debate — which appeared on a special edition of “BronxTalk with Gary Axelbank” and was co-sponsored by The Riverdale Press, BronxNet and Norwood News — was hardly contentious.

Mr. Axelbank, who served as moderator, said at the end of the program that the debate was “a high level discourse and a respectable debate.”

Mr. Axelbank asked questions on a number of issues including the Bronx’s unemployment rate, bank bailouts, education, working (or not working) with Republicans, health care, the federal government’s role in gay marriage and ethnicity’s role in this campaign.

Four Jackies

Mr. Axelbank questioned Mr. Espaillat about why his campaign is focusing on the possibility of his becoming the first Dominican elected to Congress rather than his record in the state legislature. Mr. Espaillat answered by comparing himself to Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in baseball.

He said he’s proud of his record in the state legislature especially to extend rent regulations, but that he thinks “every community is entitled to its Jackie Robinson moment.”

Ms. Johnson, a community organizer, said she thinks it’s important to note she’s the only woman in the race and maybe Jackie Robinson is not the right analogy.

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