NY Rep. Rangel, Facing Trial, Also Faces Unprecedented Opposition
Friday, July 23, 2010
A two-year investigation into allegations that Rep. Charlie Rangel violated congressional ethics rules by failing to properly account for his finances and assets was forwarded on Thursday to bipartisan panel for review next week.
In a brief statement, Rangel, 80, said he’s “pleased that at long last, sunshine will pierce the cloud of serious allegations that have been raised against me in the media.”
The specific charges against Rangel will be announced when the eight-member panel from the House Committee on Standards and Official Conduct convene next week.
Previously, Rangel has come under scrutiny for failing to disclose income he earned from a rental villa he owns in the Dominic Republic; using at least one of the four rent-controlled apartments he owns in Harlem as a campaign office; taking an overseas junket paid for by corporate underwriters and using official congressional stationary to solicit contributions for a public policy school to be named in his honor.
Amid earlier criticism from these allegations, Rangel temporarily stepped down as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. But Rangel is still an influential voice in shaping legislation. Most recently, he helped lead the New York delegation’s fight to amend legislation creating tougher new regulations on the financial services industry, much of which is based on Wall Street.
While getting a blood test during a recent health fair on 142nd Street, Rangel explained, “what we do on Wall Street most anyone can do it. We wanted protection, but we didn’t want to punish.”
The bill was sufficiently amended to his liking, and Rangel said he’ll be voting for it.
Rangel, who is celebrating his 80th birthday with a fund-raiser early next month, is running for re-election and facing unprecedented opposition. His four opponents in the Democratic primary include: a former aide, Vince Morgan; the son of the congressman Rangel defeated when he was to congress four decades ago, Adam Clayton Powell IV; business executive and early Obama supporter Joyce Johnson and labor activist Jonathan Tasini.
Each say the respect the work Rangel has done over the years--some more than others--but all say it’s time the 40-year veteran step down.
“Should we wait till he starts passing the torch?” asked Morgan. “We often, in our community, wait for the retirement ceremony or the memorial service before we start preparing for the inevitable."
Morgan, who worked for the congressman for about two years before becoming a local banker, said Rangel no longer represents the changing community he serves.
“Mr. Rangel represents--he’s the physical embodiment of the district, 20, 30, 40 years ago,” said Morgan. But policy differences between the two are scarce.
“Frankly, I would probably vote the same way on 90 percent of what legislation he’s worked on,” said Morgan.
Powell, an Assemblyman representing part of the district, ran against Rangel in 1996 (Powell was a City Councilman at the time) and lost, handily. He says this race isn’t motivated by the notion of avenging his father’s loss to Rangel. Rather, he says, it’s about the congressman being out of touch.
“I think voters think Rangel has lost his mind,” Powell said in an interview with WNYC.
Powell recalled how Rangel equated President Obama’s continuation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to earlier reasons given by then-Vice President Dick Cheney.
“To put Obama’s name in the same sentence is an affront to progressive values in northern Manhattan,” said Powell.
Powell, it should be noted, is arguably the strongerst challenger. He has great name recognition in the district. But he was arrested for a DWUI recently. And there have been other public accusations of wrongdoing but they never resulted in charges being filed, let along a conviction. Still, they have resulted in unflattering headlines and a bruised public identity.
Powell, who was born in Puerto Rico, also says the district is more diverse than people realize, and not solely anchored in Harlem, which is predominately African-American.
In an interview with Insight NuevaYork, an on-line show, Powell said, “Certainly it’s not a Harlem seat” and “the rest of the neighborhoods [in the district] appear to be step-children. And that’s wrong.”
Challenging Rangel on more substantive issues is Tasini, who tried running to the left of Hillary Clinton during her 2006 re-election for Senate. He got crushed, but established himself--in some circles--as a credible voice for progressive issues.
Tasini says Rangel’s support for real estate development in the district and trade deals in Washington have helped drive jobs and affordable housing out of the district.
“Charlie Rangel has not been a defender of the average person’s right to have decent housing,” said Tasini. “Now, I would put in parenthesis that it is ironic that one of his ethical issues has to do with a very generous, how should I say it, housing allowance he has.”
Tasini has also said he would not vote to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a position Rangel has also come to support. Tasini says he supports Rangel’s move to reinstate the military draft, arguing it’ll help deter policy makers from sending troops into harms way if the military was made up of troops from more diverse socio-economic backgrounds.
The fourth candidate in the race is Johnson, who is also the only woman in the race. She, unlike Tasini and Powell, is not eagerly embracing an ideological label while campaigning.
“I don’t want to get into an intellectual debate on anything,” Johnson said in an interview. “There's a full agenda of stuff that we have to do. And the American people are saying you either do it now without debate, without rancor, or even with debate and rancor, but move quickly to some solutions.”
Johnson was an early Obama supporter and worked to get him on the ballot during the primary. She’s also hired, among others, campaign operative Michael Berland, once part of the legendary consulting firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland--whose clients have included President Clinton, and, later, Michael Bloomberg.
While opposition to Rangel is strong and the Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the website Democrats.com showed Rangel with 39 percent of support among registered voters in the district, his closest challenger is Powell, with 21 percent.
Rangel, though, is optimistic about his chances.
Before this weeks’ announcement about the advance of his ethics probe, Rangel told WNYC, “With the problems that I’m facing in Washington, I think just getting 80 percent of the vote would be a familiar to demonstrate the relationship that I have with my constituents.”
Among a handful of constituents, the debate around Rangel’s future is uncertain.
Outside a Laundromat on 128th Street, Robert Brown, 60, argued with a companion about whether Rangel should stay in office.
“So, he’s seventy-something, seventy-eight, seventy-nine, something like that around here. What the hell. It’s time for him to go now. Give a younger man a younger chance. Maybe he come up with younger ideas, better ideas, for Harlem. What’s wrong with that?”
A few blocks south of Rangel’s Harlem office, Cornelius Parker was pushing an ice cream cart, with his wife, nearby. She supports Rangel, so, Cornelius said he will too.
Then, their friend, Scott Randall, a local barber, joined them.
“If the question is, is he valuable? Absolutely,” said Randall. “I mean, had it not been for these attacks right now, we would not be having these conversations. It would just be business as usual, let him do what he does, and do what he do until he goes off.”
There's plenty of points to score off Rangel. But for his opponents, none of them add up to a victory.
Rangel has tacked left on the war, taking away some of the ammunition Tasini and Powell have been firing. And his work on protecting the financial industry is leaving Morgan and Johnson with little to talk about.
Rangel’s campaign has also decided not to try removing any of his opponents from the ballot, ensuring that the bloc of voters unhappy with Rangel will potentially be diluted to the point of irrelevance.
Back at the Armory on 142nd Street, Rangel was finishing his blood test, and explaining why the incoming fire was bolstering his standing among his constituents.
“They kind of think that one person in the community made a national difference and that I belong to them,” he said. “Like I told the wife, it doesn't mean that they’ll lose sleep over me--hey darling, so glad to see you--but it does mean that they care enough.”