Is today's Democratic primary the last hurrah for Rep. Charles Rangel?
Charles Rangel has a storied past in Harlem and the US House of Representatives, where he has served 21 terms. But ethics violations, censure, and redistricting could take a toll in Tuesday's primary.
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The 21-term congressman will find out Tuesday after voters go to the polls in northern Manhattan, Harlem, and a small part of the Bronx to select who will be on the Democratic ticket in November – practically a guarantee of election in New York's 13th Congressional District.
In the past, this wouldn’t even be an issue. Mr. Rangel, a decorated Korean War veteran who helped funnel vast federal dollars toward the revitalization of his district, usually had no trouble fending off challengers. He was always well versed on the issues, and he had a gravelly voice that resonated with voters. Many 50-year-olds still remember when he handed out candy to them.
But times have changed.
The boundaries of Rangel’s district have been changed – giving it a much larger proportion of Hispanic voters. Rangel himself, once a vigorous campaigner, has slowed down. And Rangel no longer has the clout he used to have when he ran the powerful House Ways & Means Committee, which sets tax policy and writes bills affecting Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlement programs.
Nevertheless, he remains a force.
Last Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) of New York gave Rangel his endorsement, on the basis of the many years he has represented the district.
“The endorsement suggests he still has some clout,” says Lee Miringoff, director of polling at the Marist Institute of Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “Cuomo provides some important credentialization.”
Rangel also showed he still has the political skill to minimize setbacks when he commented to the television cameras last Friday about The New York Times endorsement of Clyde Williams, a former aid to President Bill Clinton: “Just tell me how the editorial board of The New York Times could say that Clyde Williams would make a better representative of my district, my city, my country,” he intoned, emphasizing the word “my” each time.
Nevertheless, Rangel will need all the help he can get. In December 2010, he was censured for 11 congressional ethics violations, including failing to pay taxes on a property he owned and improperly soliciting millions of dollars of corporate donations for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York.
The New York legislature has also redistricted Rangel’s turf, resulting in many more Hispanic voters than African-Americans. As a result, Rangel’s main opponent is Adriano Espaillat, a Dominican-American.