Pity the table. On Wednesday night in the Bronx, at one of the most energetic mayoral debates in an often-lackluster series of forums, some of the candidates at times took a beating from rivals or hecklers during a discussion of issues deemed important to Latino voters.
But it was the candidates’ table itself that took the hardest thumping, from the Rev. Erick J. Salgado, a Brooklyn minister who is less known than some of his Democratic rivals. Mr. Salgado often finds himself on the margins of such discussions, but before a friendly audience he delivered a performance so impassioned that at one point a moderator, in jest, called upon another minister to pray for him.
“I’m O.K.,” Mr. Salgado retorted. “You know who needs a prayer, the 800,000 undocumented immigrants. They need the prayer.” He was referring to immigrants in the city who are not here legally.
The debate was at the City University of New York’s Hostos Community College, organized by the Hispanic Federation, the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario La Prensa and the television network Telemundo.
The theme of the forum was “The Road to City Hall Runs Through the Latino Community,” and the seriousness with which the candidates take such a claim about a population that could make up a fifth of the electorate this fall was reflected in the attendance. All the major candidates except for one, Joseph J. Lhota, a Republican, were there. The two Hispanic candidates present were Adolfo Carrión Jr., a former Bronx borough president who is running on the Independence Party line, and Mr. Salgado.
The first flare-up came during a row over whether and how a post-Bloomberg administration should provide documentation for illegal immigrants. There was rapid-fire verbal jousting between Mr. Salgado, who called for city-issued identification cards to “help these people come out of the shadows and have dignity” and John C. Liu, the city comptroller, who argued that illegal immigrants should get regular driver’s licenses and state-issued identity papers, not “a special I.D. that points out the fact that they are immigrants.”
Mr. Salgado has been sometimes sheepish and slow to start at some of the debates. But at this particular debate, among Latino and other minority voters, he was electric, punching the air, jumping to his feet, and, at times, being jocularly calmed down by the two candidates flanking him, Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, and William C. Thomson Jr., a former city comptroller.
During the discussion about illegal immigrants, Mr. Salgado all but shouted down Mr. Liu, proclaiming, to whoops from the audience, “They are Latino, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for the African Americans and as a pastor I am going to fight for the Latinos to at least have the dignity to be identified in the City of New York.”
As he slammed his fist onto the table, and into the air, even the other candidates laughed and applauded, seemingly content for the minister to have his moment. “I’m sorry,” he said at one point after thumping the table once again, “I’m a preacher.”
When Mr. Salgado had finished speaking on immigration, the moderator turned to Anthony D. Weiner, a former United States representative, to ask if he had anything to contribute on the issue. Wisely recognizing that this was not an act to follow, Mr. Weiner declined with a simple “no”, shaking his head and folding his arms.
The passion seemed to seep into the rest of the evening, notably when the debate turned to a plan for a waste transfer station on the Upper East Side where garbage from surrounding neighborhoods would be loaded onto barges to be shipped out of the city.
The plan has drawn protests from some Manhattan residents, but it has support from environmental advocates in other boroughs, who accuse Manhattan of dumping its waste in poorer communities. Before the debate began, banner-waving demonstrators marched outside the community college chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Manhattan’s waste has got to go,” and “Our right to breathe is not for sale.”
When Ms. Quinn defended the waste station plan at a Manhattan forum near the site earlier this year, she was booed by residents there. Here the reverse dynamic was in play, and when Mr. Thompson opposed the proposal the audience responded with boos and hisses.
“That site is a bad site; there’s nothing that changes that,” Mr. Thompson said. “I believe also that other neighborhoods have been impacted, other black and Latino communities, and I want to see those communities treated fairly. It doesn’t mean that we should move forward with that site.”
But he immediately came under fire from Mr. Carrión, who captured the mood of the audience by telling Mr. Thompson: “You can’t have it both ways. We fought hard to make sure that every borough in the City of New York carries its fair share. The Bronx and parts of Brooklyn are tired of being dumped on.”
The mood seemed infectious. In a riff on the garbage debate, Sal F. Albanese, a former city councilman, took a swipe at his Democratic rival Bill de Blasio about whether the site of a separate waste transfer station in Brooklyn was really within walking distance of Mr. de Blasio’s Park Slope home, as Mr. de Blasio claimed. It wasn’t even the same site that was generating all the anger at the other end of the table, yet within minutes Mr. de Blasio had thrown down a walking challenge to Mr. Albanese, who picked it up a few minutes later, via Twitter.
Finally, the energy dissipated. One of the two Republican candidates present, John Catsimatidis, excused himself saying that he had to leave early for another function on Staten Island. Mr. de Blasio also departed before the end, and the evening wrapped up cordially.
As they left, more than one candidate remarked on the liveliness of the debate compared with some others. How much it matters or advances Mr. Salgado’s chances is unclear. The hall was just over half full, and the mayoral campaign quickly moves on to other stops that may be less receptive to him. But on Wednesday night Mr. Salgado found his voice, and his audience.