It was Rep. Charles Rangel's turn to speak in a debate against two rivals hoping to end the New York Democrat's 44-year congressional career. Instead of addressing the audience, though, the 84-year-old Rangel casually picked up his phone, pretended to take a call and mocked his opponents in a folksy, conversational voice as they sat seething beside him.
It was classic Rangel, using humor and hubris while trying to undermine his much younger and less experienced challengers: State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, 59, and the Rev. Michael Walrond Jr., 41, a Harlem pastor. But the audience laughter that Rangel drew for his make-believe phone chat may not translate to voter support, which Rangel sorely needs if he is to overcome threats in Tuesday's primary.
In a double dose of bad news for Rangel this week, the New York Times on Thursday endorsed Espaillat, who ran against Rangel in 2012; and Mayor Bill de Blasio pointedly refused to endorse anyone, denying Rangel the powerful mayoral nod that he had enjoyed under former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.