Streams

Rangel Turns 81 In Good Company

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rep. Charlie Rangel at his 81st birthday fundraiser in New York. (Alec Hamilton / WNYC)

Charlie Rangel's birthday bash fundraiser was a bit like an encyclopedia of Democratic New York politics.

Present at the Plaza Hotel ballroom were Assemblyman (and CD-9 hopeful) David Weprin, Queens Party boss Congressman Joe Crowley, and former NYC mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins.

Onstage, Dinkins referred to the small group of protesters standing in front of the Plaza, calling for the resignation of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (also present). Dinkins said it reminded him of last year's party, when people protested Rangel.

"Last year, when I entered, there were three and a half protesters out there, saying unkind things... I saluted them with one finger... They were talking about my brother, and I don't take that from anybody."

Governor Andrew Cuomo made a brief appearance. Former governor David Paterson MC'd much of the event with his trademark charisma and humor, ("I thought this event was for Charlie, but now that he's introduced me, let me tell you how to make those checks out.") and between him and dapper Rangel the show was a gentlemanly charmer.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman took the stage for a moment, as did Comptroller John Liu. "I can't believe it's his 81st birthday, he doesn't look a day over 61!"

Finally Rangel stood on stage again, in his gleaming white suit, alternately beaming happily and sternly shushing the crowd. He spoke about the challenges that President Obama faced this year, drawing sympathetic nods from the assembled guests. 

"We have the problem that President Obama—people have made up their minds that getting rid of him is more important than taking care of our country." Cheers from the crowd.

"No president has ever," Rangel went on, "been challenged for fulfilling his statutory obligation to raise the debt ceiling." More clapping, and a man in the audience called out "Right, right, right!"

Rangel looked somber. "A group of us," he squinted out into the audience and pointed, "Joe Crowley, have petitioned the president to call us back!"

The congressman also drew appreciation from the crowd with his critique of the GOP position on cuts.

"It's not just Medicare and Medicaid. It's biblical. And no matter what your religion. It's how we treat the least among us."

Aretha Franklin rocked the stage in a strapless white dress and a massive pearl collar. She started with a gospel song, then a new song, before getting the crowd dancing by launching into chain of fools and respect.

Franklin's act was marred by a series of plugs she gave for Walmart, saying "That's my new single, available exclusively at Walmart. Go to Walmart dot com." She returned to the advertising again at the end of the show, again plugging Walmart dot com. It was a jarringly commercial moment in an otherwise stellar performance.

Among those also present were Congressman Gregory Meeks, State Senator Kevin Parker, Assemblyman Danny O'Donnell, Queens Borough President Helen Marshell, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver ("Mr. Picasso was right- it does indeed take a long time to grow young"), and Comedian Paul Moony.

Senator Chuck Schumer took the stage at the end, congratulating Rangel on his perserverance. Schumer wished the congressman a happy birthday, and turned to ask the crowd: "Does Charlie Rangel get younger every year?"

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