Editorial -- Rep. Rangel Should Give Up His Ways and Means Chairmanship

Saturday, November 29, 2008

WHEN WE last wrote about Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, we urged that the House ethics committee be allowed to investigate before anyone drew final conclusions. But the latest revelation of Mr. Rangel's ethical tin ear is the most galling yet. While he remains innocent until proven otherwise, he should step aside as chairman while the ethics committee expands its inquiry.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Mr. Rangel helped preserve a valuable tax loophole for an oil and gas drilling company while the company's chief executive, Eugene M. Isenberg, was pledging $1 million to the Charles B. Rangel School of Public Service at City College of New York. Mr. Rangel insists that the mutual favors were entirely coincidental. And quite a coincidence it seems to have been. On Feb. 12, 2007, the Times reported, the day the tax legislation was being considered in his committee, Mr. Rangel met in New York City with Mr. Isenberg to discuss the businessman's support of the Rangel School. Then Mr. Isenberg escorted Mr. Rangel across the room to his lobbyist, Kenneth J. Kies, who wanted to make sure Mr. Rangel would not close the loophole.

The revelation is the latest in a litany that has come to light since the summer. It was disclosed that Mr. Rangel was paying below-market rents on four Harlem apartments. One, which he has since given up, was illegally used as a campaign office. He owed taxes on at least $75,000 in rental income on a vacation home in the Dominican Republic. (He has since paid $10,800 to the IRS and New York State for three tax years and has hired a forensic accountant to determine how much he owes for the remaining 17 years.) Mr. Rangel underreported the value of a condominium he and his wife owned in Florida. He neglected to fully account on House travel disclosure forms for some privately sponsored trips. And he used his official stationary to ask for meetings to discuss his eponymous school of public service with titans of business and philanthropy.

At a time when President-elect Barack Obama is holding frequent news conferences to reassure the markets and the American people that he is ready to lead the nation to economic recovery, the last thing he will need is a chairman of Ways and Means caught up in a swirl of serious allegations.

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