In Rangel's Defense

Friday, November 19, 2010 - 05:06 PM

I began working for Charlie Rangel in his now infamous rent-controlled campaign office in the summer of 2006 as an intern still in high school. I have continued to proudly work for him, as well as other Congressional members, ever since. I agree with District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, the greatest New York crime-buster of the 20th century, who said Rangel is being “railroaded” and that “he’s done more for the people of New York City than anybody else.”

Having, even at my young age, an understanding of what transpires in Washington on a daily basis, I’d like to briefly illuminate the inordinate sanctimony and hypocrisy of the very institution that is now demonizing Rangel – an institution, his record shows, Congressman Rangel served proudly for decades.

One of the most disturbing charges against Rangel is that he used official letterhead to solicit contributions to the City University of New York (CUNY) for a Public Policy school that would bear his name. This charge is ludicrous on so many fronts. How can critics and the public villainize someone who is trying to get funding for a public university in one of America’s poorest neighborhoods? CUNY’s sole purpose is to educate those who neither have the means nor resources to go elsewhere. I would also like to point out that this is infinitely more appropriate than sitting Presidents who raise money out of the Oval Office for their personal Presidential libraries (they all do it).

Of course, the strongest argument against Rangel is that he was soliciting corporations which had legislation before the Ways and Means Committee. Perhaps we should also ask, though, which of America’s corporations doesn’t have legislation before said committee?

Again, regarding the letterhead, I would like to reiterate that we’re talking about public education in Harlem, a place more synonymous with gang shootings than education. And the one person who believed in Harlem and has lived in the same apartment building since 1970 is Charlie Rangel. He always believed in Harlem, and he certainly always believed in making it a better place, and the cornerstone to a better Harlem was better public education in one of America’s lowest income districts. Finally, what’s worse, a Congressman trying to raise money for a Public University in Harlem who uses the wrong letterhead, or a Congressperson on the Energy Committee – who accepted money from the oil industry to get elected – sitting down in his prized Congressional office under the American flag with an oil lobbyist to discuss pending legislation? I think the answer is pretty simple here. America should, too.

Indeed, two long years of investigations and millions of dollars later, the Ethics Committee was able to charge Rangel for 11 sloppy errors over the span of his 40 years in Congress. Each of the 11 charges against Rangel lack the two most fundamental pillars of corruption – intent and self-enrichment. Meanwhile, the born-again ethicists continue to portray Rangel as a staple of Washington corruption and continue to slander Rangel’s illustrious 50-year career. This, even after the lead prosecutor for the Ethics Committee, Blake Chisam, said he “saw no evidence of corruption” and that the Congressman was simply “overzealous in many things he did, and sloppy with his personal finances.” Watching the Ethics Committee hearings was the equivalent to watching a teacher punish the loudest kid in the room but not the worst behaved.

Congressman Rangel’s is an incredible story that helped define a generation of black Americans and what they are capable of accomplishing. A high school dropout in one of America’s poorest neighborhoods, a decorated Korean War hero, and eventually, a law school graduate made possible by the G.I. Bill, Rangel quickly turned his eyes and heart to public service. He defied tremendous odds and overcame great racial inequality and institutional racism to become one of the biggest movers and shakers on Capitol Hill, and eventually, the first-ever black Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

While his outspokenness and power made him beloved on Capitol Hill, it also made him an easy target for his critics and adversaries across the aisle. Despite the ongoing calls for his resignation by cynics and the constant branding of his integrity as a corrupt individual, his detractors were lacking one major element to their hit story: Rangel was never corrupt.

Rangel’s great accomplishments as a lawmaker, ardent supporter of civil rights and savvy negotiator may be tarnished in future books, but in the minds of his constituents he will always be Harlem’s angel. Year after year, the voters of Harlem overwhelmingly reelected their leader, who took a district on fire and brought economic life to it, so much so that Bill Clinton’s office is now famously in Harlem.

In the end, it was unintended sloppiness that got the best of Rangel. It’s sad to see the legacy of one of America’s great leaders and public servants tarnished by those eager to contemptibly paint him as a self-enriching, self-serving Washington insider with little regard for the actual facts.

Alex Leopold is a Political Science Major at Concordia University in Montreal. He is presently on academic exchange for the year as a Killam Fellow at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Alex has worked in Congressman Rangel's campaign for the past five summers in addition to working with other members of New York's Congressional Delegation.


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Comments [5]

DAT from Nathan Straus Projects

The man is 80 years old, a Korean
War veteran. Rangel was wrong,
but he should be cut a break.
John Boehner was giving out
Tobacco Checks on the House Floor,
in order to influence a vote.

Nov. 22 2010 01:25 PM

Alex This is a very well written defense of the Congressman and it convinced me that many of the charges against the Congressman did not have weight. I felt you did not lay out the issue of failure to pay taxes on rental income. What do you say about that? Is it indeed true that the Congressman failed to pay income tax on a substantial amount of rental income. Is this what you refer to as sloppiness? And what about the rent controlled apartment, has the congressman moved out of that space and returned it to its intended purpose. Overall a very spirited defense and so well written. I guess I will finally get to meet you at Mammoth over the holidays. best fred ulrich , father of the very cute blonde girl.

Nov. 21 2010 02:31 PM
Josh Demain from Alabama, Communist totalitarian, I just don't know it yet.

Letsy Brown, perspective in this world seems to be the only factor in humility. Your comments "not unlike" many fellow citizens need substance behind your arguments. With that said, educate yourself on what really matters. The dehumanization of a man, who clearly regrets some of the charges against him, does not in any regard deserve the type of response given by you and the opposing party. Go go, corporate takeover, let the market be, and ohh wait while we are at it, lets all sit back go hunting, drink a brew, and criticize the people who actually fought for the less fortunate, because when it comes down to it, we don't give a f*** about anyone else because we only live once....... Go to school, get educated from a global perspective, and then go find some solidarity in your life. Perhaps you will befriend someone other than your sister for marriage.

Nov. 20 2010 04:29 PM
LETSY BROWN from fulron, missiaaippi

no time for retribution too late!!

Nov. 19 2010 11:48 PM
Robert from Montreal, Canada

Thank you for adding some much needed balance to the current situation. Hopefully, your comments represent the first instances of "the voice of reason".

Nov. 19 2010 08:12 PM

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