Rangel, under ethics cloud, faces primary voters

Voters head to polls in one last big round of primaries before midterms.
By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 15, 2010; 12:48 AM

NEW YORK - Facing ethics charges in Washington and upstart challengers at home, Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) won a resounding victory Tuesday to keep the Harlem-based House seat that he has easily controlled for 40 years.

Rangel, the ousted Ways and Means Committee chairman who has been charged with 13 counts of violating House rules, ran an aggressive campaign for the Democratic nomination, betting that the people who have known him longest - voters in the 15th Congressional District - would send him back to Capitol Hill with a political victory before the House ethics committee tries him later this year or early next year.

"I go back to Washington stronger than I've ever been," Rangel declared as supporters presented him a victory cake from singer Aretha Franklin.

Despite a crowded field, Rangel won a majority of votes - 51 percent, with 95 percent of precincts reporting. His most aggressive challenger, state Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, had 24 percent. Community activist Joyce Johnson, who received the surprise backing of the New York Times editorial board, had 12 percent.

Now in his 20th term, Rangel is a near-certain victor in the general election. The heavily liberal district has been represented by just two congressmen since 1945, both historic African American political figures: Rangel, since 1970; and the man he defeated, Powell's father, Adam Clayton Powell Jr.

As Rangel entered his victory party Tuesday night, a boisterous affair at the Uptown Grand, he confessed to his closest supporters that "this is new to me" because he is used to coasting to reelection. "My heart is beating so fast because of these terrible accusations," he said.

New York's new voting system, which involves computerized and paper ballots, slowed the counting. As he waited hours to learn the result, Rangel addressed the crowd four separate times, growing antsy at the pace. Told that a large number of votes would not be counted until 11:30 p.m., the congressman bellowed, "You must be kidding me."

In his victory, Rangel relied on his entrenched popularity and his enormous advantages in campaign financing and political organization, including endorsements and phone calls to voters from former president Bill Clinton and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I).

But the ethics cloud hung over his campaign. The House ethics committee put off consideration of his trial until after the Nov. 2 general election, rejecting the longtime Democrat's plea last month to handle the case quickly and not "leave me swinging in the wind."

According to sources familiar with the ethics committee's process, the panel plans to first conduct a trial of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) on allegations regarding assistance her office gave to a bank in which her husband was a large investor. After that, they will tackle the Rangel trial, possibly not until January.

The order was determined by the work required to present the charges against each member. The allegations against Waters center on a few actions involving one bank in which her husband had a considerable investment; that trial is also not likely to start until after the November midterms.

Rangel's case is far more complicated, with 13 separate charges, including his fundraising for a private New York university center named after him and his failure to fully disclose his assets on financial disclosure forms over two decades.

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