Rangel Insists Ethics Tumult Will Pass
Sunday, September 28, 2008
This is what defiance looks like: a figure in a dark business suit, gold pocket square and silver pompadour, refusing to be driven from the job he loves.
Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), 78, addressing two visitors in his office near the House chamber, says he won't cave in to Republicans and other critics who demand that he step aside as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee until the ethics cloud surrounding him clears.
"When they call you everything and just repeat every week, every day, accusations, it's discomfortable," Rangel said last week in an interview, in between trips to the House chamber for speeches and votes. "But, hey, I'm not in a nursing home hearing that. I'm on the job, trying to deal with disaster and tax extensions and energy and peace and trying to get the hell out of this fiscal crisis that our country finds itself in."
Rangel's perch at the top has been threatened by a series of disclosures about his finances, real estate dealings and use of official resources for personal ends.
The congressman denies doing anything "morally wrong" and has sought exoneration from the House ethics committee, a bipartisan panel with a reputation for giving little more than wrist slaps in recent years. The flap has embarrassed some Democrats, emboldened GOP opponents and generated calls for Rangel to relinquish the chairmanship from hometown newspapers, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In the interview on Wednesday, the day the ethics panel opened its investigation of Rangel's activities, the congressman blamed "irresponsible" reporters and opportunistic Republicans for most of his troubles.
In his gravelly voice, he said the tumult will pass. At worst, he said, he could be accused of sloppy record-keeping.
"No one would ever be able to say that it's a scandal or that I was corrupt," Rangel said. "They may not be able to remove this from my stainless reputation over 50 years. But they will be able to say that 'Rangel never intentionally violated the spirit of the law, or evaded or avoided federal taxes, or attempted to mislead the ethics committee.' "
In power circles in New York and Washington, support for Rangel appears steady. A source close to the House leadership said that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) backs the congressman, and that he is not in danger of losing his chairmanship. At the annual African American Day Parade in Harlem last Sunday, Rangel was greeted by chants of "Charlie! Charlie! Charlie!" said former New York mayor David N. Dinkins, who rode beside him in a convertible.
Political analysts say the dean of the New York delegation, routinely reelected with more than 90 percent of the vote, is a virtual lock to win a 20th term in November.
But the congressman does have opposition. Craig Schley, 45, a community organizer and former Rangel intern, collected nearly 6,000 signatures in five weeks to run as an independent. He says Rangel has encouraged development and gentrification at the expense of ordinary Harlem residents.
"It's simple: You put a person's business, home or lease at peril, you're not going to get the votes," Schley said. "That political machine that he has -- we suspect that he's going to have to oil it."