Rangel's Birthday Bash: "Ain't No Funeral"

He got Dionne Warwick instead of Aretha Franklin. But in the end, the birthday party fundraiser for embattled Rep. Charles Rangel seemed more like the mandatory roll call for New York politicians, and less like the dance floor on the Titanic.

On stage at the Plaza Hotel, the 80-year-old Mr. Rangel set the tone, with his wide smile, dark suit and repeated "thank yous" to guests who he said were attending from all over the country. He joked the event was too crowded and wondered where he would stand to not cause a traffic jam.

Then, from the stage, he said, "You know, I"ve been to a lot of funerals where they worked it out but this damn sure ain't no funeral, is it?"

No it wasn't.

Mr. Rangel's public battle to clear his name from thirteen alleged violations of House Ethics Rules has cost him nearly $2 million in legal fees, the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee, and, thanks to calls from some members in his party, maybe even his seat.

But Mr. Rangel, a decorated Korean War veteran, has fought back critics, acknowledged some wrong-doing, and insisted that he will not leave until the matter is concluded in a public hearing. The congressman even brow-beat nay-sayers (many of whom in his own party) during a thirty-minute long speech on the floor of Congress Tuesday afternoon.

"I'm not going away," he said, defiantly, after reminding them who traveled the country to raise money to help put some of them in the seats they are currently holding.

That feisty spirt helped solidify the guest list for Mr. Rangel's birthday party the following day.

Andrew Cuomo, who is building his gubernatorial campaign on a vow to clean up corruption in Albany, was in attendance. (A week earlier, his campaign spokesman said the candidate's schedule was undetermined.)

On stage, Mr. Cuomo recalled how President Clinton turned to one congressman to help push through his urban agenda.

"Bill Clinton went to Congressman Rangel to carry that urban agenda during that congress. He ducked, he tackled, he got it done," Mr. Cuomo said, to roaring applauds.

All three citywide elected officials - Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu and Mayor Michael Bloomberg were there. Mr. Bloomberg joked about the public indecisiveness of some guests.

Some, said Bloomberg, "had to get a haircut unexpectedly or they knew they were going to have a headache."

(Also milling around the room was, basically, the entire unofficial slate of 2013 NYC mayoral candidates: In addition to Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Liu, there was City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Rep. Anthony Weiner, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and State Senator Eric Adams.)

Senators Chuck Schumer, the aspiring Senate Majority Leader, and Kirsten Gillibrand, the state's junior senator who faces her first statewide election this November, were both in attendance. 

Some, for certain, stayed away from Mr. Rangel, whose ethics trial is being used by Republicans as a major talking point in the mid-term elections.

Rep. Mike McMahon of Staten Island, cited a scheduling conflict for his non-attendance. Rep. Tim Bishop of Long Island weeks ago returned money that Mr. Rangel donated to his campaign, and has kept the Harlem lawmaker at arms length.

But then there was Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the 14-term lawmaker who announced days ago she wasn't going, after her opponent in the Democratic primary challenged her not to attend. Ms. Maloney cited a scheduling conflict. At the event, Governor David Paterson - who acted as Master of Ceremonies - announced Ms. Maloney had sent her birthday wishes to Mr. Rangel, in a text message, and was donating $2,500 to the congressman's campaign.

Ms. Franklin, the famed singer, canceled her appearance after breaking her ribs in an accident.

Outside the Plaza Hotel, the event drew a handful of vocal protesters who yelled sporadically and occasionally waved banners, from across the street. Former Mayor David Dinkins, the gentlemanly 83-year-old elder statesmen, walked inside the Plaza, but not before flipping protesters the the middle finger.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said the recent attacks on Mr. Rangel's ethics were a form of "political execution." But Mr. Sharpton predicted there would be a "political resurrection."

Mr. Rangel, upon hearing this, made the sign of the cross and hugged Mr. Sharpton.

After nearly an hour of speeches and music, Mr. Rangel jokingly wondered if the bar was still open, then he waved to the crowd and, before leaving, danced a little jig.