Rangel Ready for Only One More

Democratic congressman Charlie Rangel leads a march of soldiers, veterans and various other military aligned groups in the 369th Infantry Regiment Parade in Harlem on May 18, 2014 in New York City.

Photograph by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Democratic congressman Charlie Rangel leads a march of soldiers, veterans and various other military aligned groups in the 369th Infantry Regiment Parade in Harlem on May 18, 2014 in New York City.

After 43 years in the U.S. House and four years as a New York state assemblyman, Charles Rangel says this year’s congressional campaign will be his last.

Rangel, who will be 84 on June 11, told supporters at a birthday celebration in Harlem last night he intends to go traveling with and lavish attention upon Alma Rangel, his wife of more than 50 years, and his children’s families.

No matter how stuck Congress is in partisan gridlock, he feels a need to spend the next two years backing President Barack Obama’s agenda, which Rangel says would mean working to equalize “a disparity between rich and poor in this country that’s absolutely frightening.”

His passion for politics “has caused me to not do and say a lot of things for my wife and family, which I intend as rapidly as I can to repair,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg News reporters and editors this morning. So this election is his last, Rangel said, “unless I run for the local school board.”

“If I invested all of my life from the time I was a kid to try to make improvements for myself and those who have been disadvantaged, I couldn’t even imagine any president who would be more committed to those commitments than President Obama,” he said.

As Rangel sees it, he wants to help Obama overcome Republican partisans under the influence of the Tea Party, which he said “tragically appears to emanate from slave-holder states that respect the Confederate flag and have the sense that no matter how badly they’ve been treated economically, because they’re white, they’re superior.”

Winning his congressional campaign won’t be easy. Although Rangel won a Democratic primary challenge in 2012 by about 2 percentage points, he faces a June 24 rematch with state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, 59, in a district redrawn two years ago to include less of Rangel’s traditional Harlem and Upper West Side Manhattan strongholds, and more of a swath of the Bronx, making it predominantly Hispanic.

Two years ago, Rangel won as a disproportionately high percentage of older New Yorkers who voted in a light turn-out to produce a result that confounded the pundits who had declared “demography is destiny.” Since then, Espaillat, with a record of winning elections by 80 percent or more, has been organizing for this race on turf he first started serving as a state  assemblyman in 1997.

Rangel has campaigned with dozens of Hispanic supporters. Several showed up at the birthday celebration yesterday at a Harlem night club, describing the veteran as a supporter of their interests for decades.

Espaillat, of Dominican ancestry, who has chaired the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus as an assemblyman, has depicted Rangel as an old fashioned politician out of step with the times and the district they now compete to represent.

Rangel, who in the Korean War received a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Presidential Unit Citation for leading 40 comrades to safety from behind enemy lines, got to Congress by defeating Adam Clayton Powell Jr., New York’s first black congressman. Powell had served 26 years and become enmeshed in scandal.

His tenure in Congress is the third longest of any current member of the House, behind John Dingell (almost 59 years) and John Conyers (49 years).

As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Rangel made a name for himself grilling witnesses during the Watergate hearings and subsequent impeachment proceedings that forced President Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation. Working his way up the seniority system — he has served longer than all but three current House members — Rangel in 2007 became chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which helps write U.S. tax and trade policy.

Then, in 2010, a House committee found him guilty of 11 ethical violations, including failure to pay some taxes and disclose rental income on a Dominican Republic house he owned. He lost the chairmanship, which he would have had to give up anyway when Republicans seized control of the House that year.

When asked what lesson was to be learned from that experience, Rangel said a politician should never be in a position of depending on his friends’ support after he’d made a mistake that was getting a lot of unfavorable publicity in an election year.

He recounted what former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told him after the censure vote had been taken: “As she cried in my arms, she said, ‘Charlie, the Congress loves you, they just love themselves a little bit more.’ ”

In the far-ranging conversation with Bloomberg news reporters and editors, Rangel reminisced about a career stretching back to 1967, when as a young Democratic state assemblyman he won the respect and affection of former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.

“Rockefeller loved everybody,” Rangel shrugged. “He was a pretty likeable guy!”

When a reporter suggested that Rangel’s political success indicated that he also is likeable, the veteran congressman rejoined, “We’ll find that out.”

 

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