Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) during a debate Wednesday night pulled out an iPhone and pretended to have an extended conversation wherein he harshly criticized his opponents.
"I'm in the middle of a debate," Rangel said during his opening remarks against New York state Sen. Adriano Espaillat. "No, it's for the United States Congress. Espaillat has already spoken. ... He's been there [in the New York state legislature] for 18 years but he didn't seem to pass any bills at all. Well, the guy's only there half of the time."
It’s an old gimmick, one popularized by comedian Bob Newhart, but it was effective, as the reaction from the debate audience indicated.
The state senator did not look amused, especially when Rangel reminded the room that it was Espaillat who once called him the “the Lion of Lennox Avenue," Capital New York reported.
"He thought he could win," Rangel continued into the phone, adding that the relationship between him and Espaillat soured when congressional lines near the Bronx were redrawn.
The debate, which was hosted by St. Luke A.M.E. Church in Washington Heights focused on a range of issues, including poverty and unemployment.
"Poverty and hunger are not a joking matter, congressman," Espaillat said, adding that the situation hasn’t been helped by lawmakers who have been in Washington, D.C., since the mid-1970s.
Espaillat took a shot specifically at Rangel’s phone gag, saying that it belittled the seriousness of the issues faced by their constituents.
"We know it's no joke. But it's a joke to tell you these are things that I believe when I've been in a legislative body for 18 years and I have not been able to deal with one piece of legislation that deal with any of the problems here. Not one piece," Rangel responded.
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