Mayor Bill de Blasio, who managed a re-election campaign for Rep. Charles Rangel 20 years ago, said Monday that he will not endorse the veteran congressman or any of his challengers in a June 24 Democratic primary.
De Blasio also said issues -- not race -- should be the focus of the contest.
"There's no place in this discussion for questions of race or nationality," the mayor said in Manhattan. "I would say to all the candidates involved: Let's get back to the issues."
Rangel, a 22-term congressman, is running to continue representing a Harlem, upper Manhattan and Bronx district that has changed demographically to include more Hispanic residents. He accused an opponent, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, at a WABC-TV debate Friday of basing his pitch on ethnicity.
"What the heck has he done, besides saying he's a Dominican?" Rangel asked.
Rangel criticized a flier circulated by Espaillat's 2012 campaign against Rangel. The flier denounced a fellow Dominican legislator who backed Rangel over Espaillat as having betrayed his community.
De Blasio did not aim his stick-to-the-issues admonition specifically at Rangel. But he said, "I certainly have heard from Congressman Rangel that he is very mindful of being cautious with word choice going forward, and I respect that."
Asked for comment, a Rangel spokesman pointed to the congressman's comment over the weekend that "only the qualifications" of candidates should be considered.
Espaillat -- who represents in Albany the Upper West Side, Washington Heights and other neighborhoods in the State Senate -- and Rangel Monday attended a Sugar Hill affordable housing announcement with de Blasio. They clapped cordially for each other, but stood on opposite ends of the stage and did not speak to each other.
De Blasio said at a news conference afterward that he won't make an endorsement and has relationships with Rangel, Espaillat and a third contender, the Rev. Michael Walrond, who is based in Harlem.
Rangel, Espaillat and Walrond's campaigns would not comment on the mayor's no-endorsement decision. Richard Soto, campaign manager for a fourth candidate, Bronx activist Yolanda Garcia, said he agrees with de Blasio that race should not be part of the discussion "but that doesn't mean he shouldn't endorse."