Though reporters and constituents have followed the money to tie U.S. Representative Charles Rangel (D-Harlem) along a string of controversies over the past year, he remains a fixture both in Washington and New York as his past credentials and ability to charm a crowd maintain Rangel’s political stature.
Last week, Rangel turned ahead to discuss the economic crisis and field questions from members of the local Broadway Democrats—some of his most loyal supporters. In his speech at Congregation Ramath Orah on Thursday evening, Rangel asserted that healthcare reform is progressing as planned, emphasized the importance of education, and frequently praised President Barack Obama.
“We support him 100 percent,” Broadway Democrats president Luis Roman said. “He has a nearly 40-year career of accomplishments in Washington and an incredible history of representing Harlem.”Rangel, 78, enthusiastically greeted neighborhood residents whom he has gotten to know over his 38 years representing Upper Manhattan in Congress. He appeared comfortable—reflecting confidence in the district where he tends to win re-election by upward of 80 percentage points. This November was no exception, as he trounced a field of lesser-known opponents to cruise into his 19th term in office.
When asked about accusations of Rangel’s corruption, Roman said, “The ethics committee will make its investigations.” Yet the congressman has been criticized by many others for improperly wielding his influence as chairman of the powerful House Committee on Ways and Means.
Specifically, Rangel was accused of occupying rent-stabilized Harlem apartments while listing a Washington, D.C. address as his primary residence, steering corporate money to a City College of New York institute named in his honor, and failing to pay $75,000 in taxes on a beach villa in the Dominican Republic.
In an attempt to quiet his critics and clear his name, Rangel requested that the House ethics committee investigate the CCNY matter, and by Feb. 10 that committee had formed a subcommittee to investigate him. Still viewed as inadequate by some Republicans, Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) filed a formal, though unsuccessful, resolution on Feb. 4 to remove Rangel from his post at the head of Ways and Means.
Rangel has also faced local criticism. “The community is in desperate need of new representation,” Craig Schley, a local activist who campaigned against Rangel last fall, said. Schley added later, “Our interests are being misused by our politicians. How can the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee be unfamiliar with the tax code?”
Columbia history professor David Eisenbach ascribed Rangel’s alleged improprieties to a sense of complacency common among elected officials who have served for such long stints.
“Rangel is not unusual in having tax problems,” said Eisenbach, who lectures in American media and politics. “People in power have a tendency to feel that they are above the law. When you are in power that long, and you’re untouchable, it’s very easy to forget. He never has to look over his shoulder.”
Still, Rangel remains unfazed by the controversy. Asked if he was worried about losing his committee chairmanship, Rangel responded with a smile as he walked out of the synagogue, saying, “That is a question that will be decided in 2010,” he said. “That’s an election year.”
From the Columbia Spectator by