How to Punish Charlie Rangel: Koch Says Quit, Harlem Pols Laugh

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rep. Charlie Rangel (Azi Paybarah / WNYC)

The only question now is how to punish Rep. Charlie Rangel.

The facts against the veteran lawmaker in his two-year-old ethics probe were never in dispute. More than five hundred pieces of evidence were accepted without objection by a bipartisan panel who, on Tuesday, found Rangel guilty of violating 11 different Congressional ethics rules.

But now, a complete lack of consensus has broken out about what to do with the facts about Rangel.

“Most of us stay too long on the stage and ultimately regret it,” said former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, who also served in Congress. He called on Rangel to resign, saying he wasn’t thinking about the 80-year-old’s legacy, but rather, “for his own health’s sake.”

“Charlie ought to consider, at his own pace, retiring from Congress,” Koch said. He said there is not much awaiting Mr. Rangel when the 112th Congress reconvenes with Republicans in the majority, following their gain of more than 60 seats in the midterm elections.

“He’s now part of the minority in the House. He’s no longer chairman. He will have very little authority,” said Koch. “He will not be happy continuing in Congress.”

Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat who has made cleaning up corruption in the state capital a top priority, was more equivocal.

“It’s painful to watch,” said Cuomo, who fell short of offering his own thoughts on the matter, saying “we’ll see what happens at the end of the process.”

Rep. Peter King, a Republican from Long Island, seemed to regret having to possibly admonish Rangel in any way, and even sounded defensive of him.

“What he did was wrong, but it was not intentional. it was not malicious,” King said. “Charlie Rangel is from the old school — didn’t realize the rules had changed. But as the Ethics Committee itself said, there was no evidence here of corruption. There is no evidence here of evil intent.”

King rattled off highlights of Rangel’s career: 40 years of in public office, military combat service, work as a federal prosecutor, and said, “I hate to see it all end this way.”

King said he hoped the committee would show some degree of leniency and take into account the entire record of Charlie Rangel, "not some negligence over the last several years.”

Most of Rangel’s violations stem from his efforts to raise money for a school to be named in his honor, which has yet to open. His failure to pay taxes on income he earned from a villa in the Dominican Republic and his use of a rent-stabilized apartment as a campaign office drew national headlines, but accounted for just two of the violations.

The penalties awaiting Rangel are expected to be more symbolic than substantive. The chief counsel for the Ethics Committee said, while presenting the evidence against Rangel on Monday, that most of the wrong-doing stemmed from “sloppiness” rather than “corruption.”

Plus, Rangel has already relinquished the gavel of the Ways and Means Committee, leaving few perks to be removed.

But the impact the punishment has on Rangel is only half the equation.


A summary of Congressional rules about punishing members of Congress describes the authority to “punish” its own members as “a device or procedure designed not so much as merely a punishment of the individual member, but rather ultimately as a measure to protect the institutional integrity of the House of Representatives, its proceedings and its reputation.”

One of the harsher penalties is a public rebuke of the Congressman with a censure from his congressional colleagues. The Congressman — a decorated Korean War veteran who has spoken openly about wanting to preserve his integrity and reputation — could be particularly wounded by such a move.

Another punishment is the loss of member’s seniority or other privileges. The Ethic Committee could, according to Congressional rules, issue a “Letter of Reproval” for “misconduct which does not rise to the level of consideration or sanction by the entire House of Representatives.”

It is doubtful Republicans on the Ethics Committee – who reportedly rejected earlier offers to settle the probe before this week’s proceedings – would agree with such a light penalty.

Only five members have ever been expelled from the Congress, but “a number” of others resigned before formal action against them could be taken, according to Congressional records.

One punishment that does not appear to be in Rangel’s future is the refusal to seat him when the 112th Congress reconvenes in January. Amid the well-publicized restart of the ethics probe, Rangel ran and convincingly won reelection to his seat. In 1967, Congress had earlier attempted to deny a duly elected lawmaker from being seated in the House of Representatives. The Supreme Court decided the move was unconstitutional.

That member was Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who Rangel later defeated in order to start his own Congressional career.

Whatever punishment is handed out to Rangel, allies say it will do little to diminish the stature of the elder statesmen.

“I don’t think a censure would have any, any sort of impact on Congressman Rangel as far as I’m concerned,” said Keith Wright, a Democrat whose Assembly district overlaps with Rangel’s in Harlem.

“The folks that he serves with will still be listening to him because not only of his experience and because of his depth of knowledge of subject matters and policy,” said Wright. “And also, because he’s Charlie Rangel and they’re not.”

Another Harlem Democrat, City Councilman Robert Jackson, said bluntly, “I would not want anyone else representing us.”


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Comments [18]

Max from NYC

Is he still using these apartments as office space?

Nov. 17 2010 10:49 PM
chop from N.Y.C.

If the average citizen was caught by the I.R.S. for cheating on their tax returns what would happen? They would be prosecuted for committing a felony. Why should there a separate standard for legislators - especially one who's committee oversaw the I.R.S. and is more than casually familiar with tax laws? It's about time that those who are responsible for making the laws are subject to the penalties for violating them the same as everyone else is.

Nov. 17 2010 11:04 AM
Robert from Manhattan

Early in President Obama's campaign, Brian had Mr. Rangel as a guest. Brian noted that candidate Obama had indicated that he might not accept private financing but do as his opponent had pledged to do, limit himself to public funds. Brian asked Mr. Rangel if Mr. Obama should disregard his previous somewhat ambiguous commitment. "Of course," the congressman replied. He should go for the most money possible regardless of what he had said. In my naivite I was shocked at the recommendation to blatantly go back on his (almost) word. But this was a politician at his worst - cynical, hypocrital, anything to be elected. It was no surprise to me when Mr. Rangel was revealed as having abused his position regularly and in many ways. I'm sure there are many others in his closet. What should his punishment be? Throw the book at him.

Nov. 17 2010 10:47 AM
JB from NJ

I guess that I should not be shocked that the "bar" for right and wrong has gotten so low. What a sad state of affairs.

Nov. 17 2010 10:47 AM

Uh, subject him to the same laws that every citizen is subjected to?

Nov. 17 2010 10:46 AM
Harlem Home

THIS PUNISHMENT SHALL ALSO BE HIS SALVATION...Rangel should have a forum ACCESSIBLY explaining to his constituents:
Exactly what a congressman can do, Exactly what he has done for Harlem,
How Harlem's economy works...
Thereby (1) addressing the sociopolitical and economic alienation that has historically plagued Harlem, instead of enabling the elite insiders of the community, of which he is a part, and (2) starting a trend of political representation in Harlem that really addresses the systemic, historic problems burdening this legendary community, which hasn't been seen in a while. THIS AT LEAST WOULD BE A PARTIAL REDEMPTION...

Nov. 17 2010 10:45 AM
Mike from Tribeca

To the caller who stated that Rep. Rangel hasn't done anything the "rest of them have done" -- that's a mighty cynical view, and certainly doesn't sound like my representative. It's one thing to be skeptical of politicians, but to brand them all as corrupt is inane.

Nov. 17 2010 10:44 AM
bernie from bklyn

to the caller-"the voters elected him and that should count for someting".....what a moronic thing to say. just further proves that black people will elect anyone as long as they are black. has nothing to do with content of character. charlie rangel could kill someone and he'd still get re-elected in that district.
and is it me but if you close your eyes and listen to charlie rangel speak, doesn't he sound exactly like edith bunker?

Nov. 17 2010 10:42 AM
Frank Ca from Rockaway, NJ

Charlie's attitude is typical. Congress thinks they operate under different laws.

Nov. 17 2010 10:41 AM
geTaylor from Bklyn., NY

I recommend that he receive the same "punishment as "Embezzler Quinn"
[ ]
She says that directing money to non-existent agencies was not corrupt either.
[ ]

Nov. 17 2010 10:41 AM

Tax evation? If so, he should be impeached in with haste. He makes his living on tax-payer dollars -- yet that was not enough for him. And, on top of that, he spent $2M of donor money for a legal defense, knowing all along that he was lying to the donors!

Nov. 17 2010 10:40 AM
stan schnier from 10024

This is such a bad mark on all New Yorkers. Wrist slapping etc....I mean, really. If I was cheating on the rent laws, I would be out on the street in a few months. This is a disgrace. Being a "Nice Guy" is not a permission to break laws. He has acted in a criminal manner and should step up to the plate. Allowing any govt. representative to get away with breaking the law is unacceptable.

Nov. 17 2010 10:38 AM
Paulina from Uppper Upper East Side

Stripping him of his chairmanship of Ways and Means should suffice. Without that he's just another representative, and an 80-year-old representative at that. His career would be effectively over.

Nov. 17 2010 10:38 AM
Robert from RBC

I voted stripped of his appointments but I'd rather see him hanged!! It wasn't a choice, you guys are getting soft. His arrogance and self-importance alone are deserving of a more severe punishment than the slap on the wrist that he'll probably end up getting. Slick Charlie! Just listening to him "defend" himself you can see he hasn't got a clue of his misdeeds. When an elected official who is in office to represent and work for his/her constituency get to the point where s/he feels s/he deserves, DESERVES special treatment then it's way beyond the time for him/her to be let go. Term limits, they work for the presidency they can work for all elected officials.

Nov. 17 2010 10:02 AM
Ken from Setauket, NY

Income tax evasion and accepting bribes...sounds worthy of criminal charges, with potential jail time. Instead, the most he'll get is a "reprimand", which is meaningless. Obviously, however, his constituents don't care...they knew of his crimes, and still reelected him with an overwhelming majority. They must think it's OK to take advantage of your power.

Nov. 17 2010 08:40 AM

What the law says? Is there a punishment or not?
It is just a ethic issue, the most that Congress can do is a temporary suspension over his functions, isn't it?

Nov. 17 2010 06:47 AM

The Congressional Mafia will not do harm to one of their bosses --

Nov. 16 2010 11:11 PM
teddy Galea from malta

if he broke the law he then should face the music and go to jail like if that was me i would have been in jail by now.

Nov. 16 2010 10:48 PM

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