It is the most local of local controversies, pitting New York City officials citing fairness against residents upset at the thought of garbage trucks clogging the streets. Yet late last week, the long-simmering dispute over a planned marine waste transfer station on the Upper East Side suddenly erupted in the mayoral campaign, setting off a bitter war of words between two of the leading Democratic candidates.

William C. Thompson Jr., a former city comptroller, announced on Thursday that he opposed the planned structure, known as the East 91st Street Marine Transfer Station, where garbage from surrounding neighborhoods would be loaded onto barges to be shipped out of the city. Mr. Thompson said that the area was too densely populated and that the fumes from the trucks would pose a health risk to children playing at the nearby Asphalt Green athletic center.

When Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker and the only mayoral candidate to have remained steadfastly in support of the marine transfer station, was asked about Mr. Thompson’s remarks, she reiterated her support — noting that the goal of this and other new marine waste transfer stations was to reduce the number of trucks rolling through poor and minority communities outside Manhattan.

“The days of environmental racism have to come to an end,” Ms. Quinn said, adding that anyone who opposed the transfer station was “standing for raising asthma rates in places like Williamsburg and the South Bronx.”

Her remarks, although they echoed ones she made at a mayoral forum on the Upper East Side in March, prompted an outcry from the Thompson campaign. The campaign accused her of calling Mr. Thompson, the only black candidate in the race, an “environmental racist,” and on Friday Mr. Thompson demanded an apology.

Standing outside a housing project a few blocks from the planned transfer station and surrounded by black supporters, Mr. Thompson said that he found Ms. Quinn’s remark “personally offensive.”

“To utter that and to direct it at a black person, at a black man in New York City,” showed insensitivity and a lack of understanding of racism, he said.

“Anyone who’s had to deal with that can only come away stunned and shocked that she would use that type of language,” he said.

Soon after, Ms. Quinn’s spokesman, Michael Morey, sent out a statement that “Chris Quinn never called anyone an environmental racist and any suggestion otherwise is simply not true.”

Mr. Morey also e-mailed statements from the executive director of an environmental justice organization and several minority members of the City Council, praising the goals of a citywide waste management plan passed in 2006, of which the planned station is a part, and criticizing Mr. Thompson for opposing it.

The waste transfer station has generated relentless and fierce opposition on the Upper East Side from residents, real estate developers and local elected officials. Opponents have brought seven lawsuits against the city over the issue, of which four have been unsuccessful and three are still pending. Construction on the station has begun.

Among the other mayoral candidates, the three Republicans, Joseph J. Lhota, John A. Catsimatidis and George T. McDonald, have all criticized the planned station, as have two Democratic candidates, Anthony D. Weiner and Sal F. Albanese. Bill de Blasio, the public advocate, and John C. Liu, the comptroller, both Democrats, voted for the plan when they were on the City Council, but at the forum in March, they hedged, with Mr. de Blasio saying he thought the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg had not listened to the community’s concerns.

On Thursday, Mr. de Blasio reaffirmed his support for the station, while saying, “I believe residents have valid concerns that must be addressed in the implementation process.”

At the forum in March, Ms. Quinn was loudly booed for expressing support for the station — one of several occasions during the campaign when she has been the only Democratic candidate to refuse to tell a crowd what it wanted to hear.

On Friday, Ms. Quinn’s spokesman sought to underscore her willingness to take controversial stances on principle.

“While some politicians are pandering on this issue to secure votes, Chris Quinn will not back down,” he said of the waste transfer station.

Members of the Bloomberg administration offered her some backup on Twitter, as well.

On Thursday, Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson posted: “Another banner day on the trail: Thompson shamelessly panders on the UES Transfer Station.”

On Friday, he added: “Mayoral candidates who oppose the UES transfer station should announce their opposition in the neighborhood they want it relocated to.”

The New York League of Conservation Voters also put out a statement on Friday calling on the mayoral candidates to support the citywide waste management plan, which it said redressed the inequity of the city’s historic waste disposal methods and reduced pollution over all.

Mr. Thompson’s campaign, meanwhile, tried to use Ms. Quinn’s comments to reinforce an image of her as volatile.

Mr. Thompson described her remarks as “reckless” and said she must have been “that angry” to have made them. His chief strategist, Jonathan Prince, said in a statement that “when she loses control she can’t be bothered with the facts.”

But Mr. Thompson’s stance on the waste transfer station also called attention to one of his own potential vulnerabilities in a Democratic primary: the financial support he has received from Alfonse M. D’Amato, the former Republican senator, who has bundled about $65,000 in donations for him.

Mr. D’Amato’s lobbying firm, Park Strategies, began lobbying for one of the groups opposed to the East 91st Street transfer station, Residents for Sane Trash Solutions, in January for a fee of $5,000 a month.

Last year, Mr. Thompson also received $14,850 in donations from executives at a real estate company, Glenwood Management, that owns several buildings near the proposed station and has been one of the leaders of the opposition. (Ms. Quinn has received $24,500 in donations from Glenwood executives and employees, though those donations came in 2007 and 2011.)

Asked if either the contributions or Mr. D’Amato had influenced Mr. Thompson’s decision, Mr. Thompson’s spokeswoman, Dani Lever, said, “Absolutely not.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/03/nyregion/mayoral-candidates-wrestle-over-waste-removal.html