Despite House ethics probe, Charles Rangel's support remains strong in Harlem
Monday, July 26, 2010
NEW YORK -- Whatever troubles Charles B. Rangel has in Washington, they haven't seemed to follow him to the streets of Harlem, where he is the only congressman many people have ever voted for, and where on sidewalks and stoops his recent trials are sometimes chalked up to conspiracy and dismissed as D.C. drama.
"I've put in 80 years on these streets, minus four with the Army," Rangel said. "They really don't think this thing is the most important thing to them."
This "thing" is the ethics investigation that has shadowed the New York Democrat for two years. A House subcommittee has been looking into whether Rangel, among other things, improperly used his congressional seat to solicit money for a college center named in his honor and failed to pay taxes on a Caribbean villa. Earlier this year, Rangel reluctantly stepped down as chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. The subcommittee announced last week that some of Rangel's financial dealings violated House rules. On Thursday, it will release more details about what exactly the violations were.
Rangel, who has denied the allegations, didn't spend the weekend hunkered down with lawyers. He returned to New York to keep up his usual hectic weekend schedule -- cruising through the streets of Harlem from one event to the next. He rode in the front seat of a gray Cadillac, a briefing book in one hand and a cellphone in the other. He did not look like a man who could be forced out of Congress after four decades. Neither did he look like a man who just turned 80.
Dressed in a white guayabera, beige pants and white slip-ons and surrounded by a cloud of aides, Rangel strolled through the lobby of Harlem Hospital Center. He was intent on meeting every eye, shaking every hand, and offering a "darling" or a "baby" to every woman who said hello.
Constituents pressed in with questions. "Is the root of all this about the chairmanship, they wanted to take that away from you?" Thomas E. Benjamin asked as Rangel passed.
"My man," Rangel said, offering Benjamin a handshake. "What happens, happens. Wait till Thursday. Thanks for caring."
David Weaver, who was sitting next to Gloria Jackson at a table littered with Rangel reelection brochures during a health forum at the hospital, said he will reserve judgment until then, dismissing the stories in the paper as mere Washington he-said, she-said.
"I don't believe the back-and-forth. But we are in total support of the chairman. And I still call him the chairman. He's done a marvelous job for this community and this nation," said Weaver, chairman of the Community Advisory Board for Harlem Hospital Center, where Rangel spoke Saturday and had a brief question-and-answer with reporters. "They are making a lot of whether the Republicans are going to pick on him, but I don't think someone in another state won't vote for a Democrat because of what Charlie has allegedly done in New York."
Jackson, 62, said what Rangel does in New York is "walk the streets of Harlem, and people know him."
"Charlie Rangel helps us out. I've voted for him as long as I've been here. He's been there for us," said Jackson, echoing lines from the Rangel brochures people picked up at the forum. "If they take that away, we won't know who the person is."
Yet many people here do know, or at least know of, one of Rangel's three primary challengers: Adam Clayton Powell IV, the son and namesake of the legendary Harlem congressman and Baptist preacher Rangel defeated in 1970. Back then, Rangel was a young, clean-government reformer; he assailed the elder Powell, who was in trouble for questionable financial dealings somewhat similar to those Rangel is now trying to explain. Emboldened by Rangel's ethics troubles, the younger Powell hopes to reclaim the seat.