Since his ethics debacle began over two years ago, rumors had been circulating from uptown Manhattan to Washington, D.C. that longtime New York Congressman Charles “Charlie” Rangel’s time was up. It wasn’t so much the looming ethics cloud as it was Rangel’s age. Nearing 80, the undisputed King of Harlem who has represented the 16th Congressional district for nearly 40 years after ousting disgraced Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (D-NY) in 1971 was just getting too old, critics said. He was the third longest serving Member of Congress behind the vaunted Johns of Michigan, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), and a founding Member of the Congressional Black Caucus. According to complaints from the younger crowd of Black politicos who wanted their turn, Rangl represented the old guard, although he is considered a trailblazer in Black power politics. Nevertheless, many were willing to lump him into the same category as civil rights activists and leaders still struggling to recalibrate strategy.
But, after raising himself out of urban poverty, facing near death against Chinese soldiers on a Korean battlefield and then bearing the public humiliation of censure from his colleagues in the House, Rangel is giving signs that he’s not going anywhere, anytime soon. Recent signals suggest the Dean of the New York Congressional delegation and former House Ways and Means Chairman is looking for another term as he recently filed his statement of candidacy to the Federal Election Commission. It’s a bold move defying the bets being placed against Rangel, but it is also characteristic of the lawmaker’s personality and reputation for stubbornness in the face of adversity.
It’s a peculiar, new development in the half-century long political journey of Rangel, who had recently started toying with political junkies when he openly mulled names of likely successors in a New York Daily News interview, describing Assemblyman Keith Wright as “a great guy with a lot of experience,” and state Sen. Adriano Espaillat as someone who “really has a proven record.” Rangel added: “And I’m watching this new fella coming in, [state Sen. Robert Rodriguez].”
But, it could be that Rangel was offering his analysis of the 16th Congressional’s electoral landscape, scoping out likely competitors. Throwing out the names of prominent local Latino legislators may have been Rangel’s way of acknowledging Harlem’s rapidly changing demographics as the district, while still celebrating a large and historic African American presence, also finds itself in the midst of ongoing gentrification and the entrenchment of growing Latino communities.
Although the filing is a first step, it does not necessarily mean that Rangel could be in the process of mounting any official bid just yet. The Congressman still has a considerable load of legal debt following him around at the moment, in addition to newly filed challenges which accused him of transferring money from his campaign war chest to pay for legal expenses. Rangel flatly denies the charge, calling it politically motivated. The National Legal and Policy Center, a Northern Virginia-based non-profit which filed the complaint, is considered a conservative-leaning outfit with a reputation for filing accusations against Congressional Black Caucus members. NLPA is elusive and has not responded as of yet to requests for interviews from Politic365.com.
Rangel, however, is pushing forward despite continued troubles. Some observers suggest he drew renewed optimism from his comeback during the 2010 midterm primaries, stunning pundits and prognosticators with his ability to simultaneously fight the House Ethics Committee while embroiled in the toughest re-election scrap of his political life. And the Harlem legislator retrofitted his Congressional communications shop, replacing 20-year press secretary Emile Milne with an energetic Hannah Kim and rolling out a fresh new website. Already, he’s re-appeared on the talk show circuit recently as a leading voice on tax and budget issues and while he exhibits signs of weariness when asked about the ethics woes, Rangel is still very pointed and candid in his conversation about it.