Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
Incumbent Congressman Charlie Rangel triumphed over state Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV and three other challengers to win the Democratic nomination for his seat in New York's 15th district. The 20-term congressman trounced his field of under-funded, disorganized and unknown challengers. (Some joked about Rangel giving his victory speech immediately after polls closed at 9p.m.)
"I don't know how this will be misinterpreted," Rangel told supporters, "but I want you to know that no matter what they say, I go back to Washington stronger than ever."
Rangel's push-back against the press was a major theme of the evening. He stressed that with this win, his critics would have their work cut out for them:
“The papers don’t elect our officials! We have a process…that whether people are angry with us or have a problem with us, they don’t elect us, they don’t tell us to resign, they say get up and run and give us an opportunity to give you a chance, or have an explanation, or to rally around you, whatever it is that gets that vote. That is not a Harlem way of doing it, that’s the constitutional way of doing it."
But the real vote that will determine how long Charlie Rangel stays as the congressman from Harlem was not cast Tuesday night. Rangel’s biggest obstacle is the 13-count charge of violated congressional ethics rules, which is still under investigation. Rangel was the chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee but gave up the gavel shortly after getting the top spot, due to the ethics allegations.
Rangel, at the time, said it was temporary, in order to avoid becoming a national campaign issue as Democrats head into the mid-term elections. Rangel hopes to regain that chairmanship, now that voters resoundingly reelected him (winning the Democratic primary in this district is tantamount to winning the general election).
If Rangel regains the chairmanship, he’s likely to stick around congress for a while longer. If he doesn’t, there’s a chance that this reelection will be Rangel’s last, and he gets to go out on top.
The House Ethics committee is expected to meet later this week.