Rep. Charlie Rangel’s (D-NY) Last Hurrah?


This morning, Politico took a look at the race of longtime Representative Charlie Rangel (D-NY). Rangel, who has suffered from poor health and according to the article spent three months away from the House at one point this year, is running against three opponents whose combined efforts could very well prevent him from having a final term in the House at the age of 82.

The article itself isn’t bad, and draws attention to a symbolically important primary that comes to a head tomorrow. However, in largely highlighting the race from Rangel’s perspective and thus mostly from a position favorable to Rangel, it partially whitewashes several strong reasons why Rangel should not be voted back into the House.

First, according to the article:

Hitting the trail last week, Rangel – who survived a tough reelection fight in 2010 despite the ethics case and a suggestion from President Barack Obama at the time to “end his career with dignity” – displayed an almost missionary zeal to prove his detractors wrong. Betrayal and disrespect – Rangel believes he deserves better after such a long record of service – appear to be fueling his bid at least as much as securing another two years in the House.

This is a recurring problem with Members of Congress; they believe they deserve to be re-elected and deserve respect from the people who have voted into office. While it is not my place to say whether or not Rangel has represented the wishes of his constituents in office (thought 40-plus years in the House indicates he has done so, or at least has hidden when he has not represented those wishes), serving in the House is a privilege created to better the nation. It is not a retirement community in which voters owe Members their support, especially given the sad state of affairs facing the nation.

This attitude on the part of Rangel was highlighted by Jason Mattera several years ago, when during an ambush interview of Rangel over the ethics investigation Materra was asked “why don’t you mind your [expletive] business?” Yup — the then-Chairman of the tax-writing House Ways & Means Committee thought his illegal navigation of the tax code was not the taxpayers’ business.

In recognition that I may be misunderstanding Rangel regarding what he believes he “deserves,” I contacted his campaign communications director by twice by phone, and on her request e-mailed the following question to her:

Specifically, I’d like to get a response as to why the Congressman “believes he deserves better after such a long record of service.” Many Members believe they should get re-elected simply because of length of service, while others believe the quality of that service is what the voters should re-elect. Can you elaborate on the Congressman’s position on re-election related to his tenure for me, please?

Unfortunately, I received no response to this question by the time this post was published, two hours after my original deadline and 30 minutes after a secondary deadline. She explained to me that with the primary tomorrow, she was extraordinarily busy and would try to get me a response. I will update this post if she does respond.

Second, the article highlights a senior citizen who is supporting Rangel:

Evelyn Jenkins, a Harlem retiree who attended a forum on health care Rangel held Friday, said she will vote for the congressman out of respect for his long tenure.

With respect to Ms. Jenkins, I believe a long tenure should generally be considered a negative when running for office (I support term limits), unless the Member is extraordinary compared to his or her opponents. Given how Washington is run, I don’t think Rangel (an influential Member for decades) and his tenure have done much good, though Ms. Jenkins may disagree.

Third, Rangel’s ethics censure in 2010 is mentioned only in the political sense, insofar as it gives his opponents ammunition with which to run against him. I wrote about the lengthy list of charges, and the timeline under which the investigation took place, for this site in February 2010 (all citations are listed at the link):

  • 1990: Rangel “didn’t know” that the developer of his villa had converted his $52,000 mortgage to an interest-free loan.
  • 1971-2000: The National Legal and Policy Center has confirmed Rangel owned a home in Washington and claimed a “homestead” exemption that allowed him to save on his District of Columbia property taxes.
  • 2001: Rangel has failed to report assets totaling more than $1 million on legally required financial disclosure forms going back to at least 2001.
  • 2004-2005: Income from rental was suspiciously low- Rangel did not pay rental income taxes on a beach-front property. The untaxed income was 75K.
    • He promised to amend his tax returns, but that did not happen
  • 2004-2006: Rent-controlled apartment owned by donor to Rangel campaign and PAC, and sent lobbyist to Rangel.
  • 2007: Rangel had a credit union account worth at least $250,000 and maybe as much as $500,000 – and didn’t report it.
  • 2007: He had investment accounts worth about $250K, which he also didn’t report.
    • Same for three pieces of property in New Jersey.
  • 2004-2006:He used one of his apartments as an office in violation of rent-control rules.
    • 2004-2006: Rent-controlled apartment owned by donor to Rangel campaign and PAC, and sent lobbyist to Rangel.
  • 2008: Investigation of Rangel’s fund raising for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York. Rangel gave a donor to the center a tax loophole.
  • Improper vehicle storage- Rangel parked a car for several years that did not have a parking permit and was unlicensed.

Rangel, who was found guilty of 11 of 13 counts leveled against him and also settled with the Federal Elections Commission related to campaign violations, received a formal censure on the House floor from then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). While many would have preferred the House Ethics Committee recommend expulsion, if not the sort of criminal charges the average person would have faced in the same situation, a December 2010 National Journal article shows censure is a relatively severe punishment in the House, and not one that had been implemented in nearly 30 years.

Fourth, regardless of political or ethical disagreements with the Congressman, the fact is that he has poor health and missed three months of votes in the House this year. While I hope his health is better today, the article said he has “…pain that I cannot describe.” If he cannot conduct his duties as a voting Member of the House, it is not fair to his constituents for him to continue holding a seat and to run for re-election. While the voters can certainly choose to care about this tomorrow and in November, I think it would show a great deal of class and humility for Rangel to resign for health reasons.

In 2010 the son of the man Rangel beat in 1970 received a great deal of media attention in his race against Rangel, but to no avail as the incumbent’s supporters dominated the voting booth. This year Rangel is in perhaps a tougher race, with the redistricting that took place after the 2010 Census. While the race truly is more symbolic than substantive when it comes to the major issues facing the country (there are, after all, 435 House races this year, as well 33 Senate races and a Presidential election), I hope the voters in his district go for younger, less problematic and, yes, more conservative blood for 2013.

[Originally posted at Race42012.com.]


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