Rep. Charlie Rangel faces four opponents in Tuesday's Democratic primary
Pundits predicted Rangel's career over after House censure, redistricting
Ethics panel found 21-term congressman guilty of tax, financial disclosure violations
Challenger says President Obama's lack of endorsement of Rangel is telling
Rep. Charlie Rangel is fighting for the Democratic nomination in a newly redrawn New York district after a more than four-decades-long congressional career.
He has been one of the most high-profile lawmakers who hit a low point in 2010 after his censure on the House floor.
The 21-term representative is locked in a five-way race Tuesday for the nomination in his Harlem-area district that now has more Latino-Americans than African-Americans, a shift that has no doubt helped Rangel’s fiercest competition, New York state Sen. Adriano Espaillat.
Espaillat, a 57-year-old Dominican-American, has used his background to court Latino votes and take aim at the 82-year-old Rangel over his long tenure in Washington and his ethics abuses.
But Rangel challenger and former Bill Clinton aide Clyde Williams does not see race as an issue.
“I don’t see it as anything that’s a challenge,” Williams said Tuesday morning on CNN’s “Early Start.” “The district has been at least 46% Latino for a while under Congressman Rangel. Again I think the most important thing people want you to articulate is a real vision and an understanding of how you are going to address their problems.”
Rangel, the one-time chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, was censured by the lower chamber in 2010 after he was found guilty of ethics violations. He failed to pay income taxes for a rental unit in the Dominican Republic, filed misleading financial disclosure reports and set up his campaign office in a building where he lives, among other breaches.
Pundits predicted an end to his political career at the time, pointing to previous ethics problems and the potential of redistricting after the 2010 census.
But the always dapper lawmaker has a core of ardent supporters. Rangel was among the leading voices in the fight against drug trafficking, pushed for low-income housing tax credits and authored legislation to support urban communities. He became the first African-American chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee after Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in 2006.
Despite the new district lines and some recent health problems, Rangel has fought hard of late to keep his seat, squaring off with his opponents in debates and taking them on during campaign stops.
“One of my opponents said that I got the idea that I’m the only person that can do the job, that I’m the smartest person in the world and no one is smart enough to do it. I said that’s not so. I’m just smarter than you,” Rangel said last week, according to CNN affiliate WCBS-TV.
Longtime Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf said Tuesday’s results will hinge on turnout, especially given that New York has not held a June primary since 1973.
“We don’t know who will turn out beyond people that would normally turn out for Charlie Rangel through organizations that he’s used forever,” Sheinkopf said Monday. “How could he lose? If none of the people show up who want to keep it a Harlem-based district.”
Sheinkopf said Rangel is also potentially helped by an “atrocious” voter turnout track record of the large Dominican-American population. He pushed back against suggestions that Rangel’s age or ethics history will hurt him at the ballot box.
If those topics mattered, “they would have toppled him last time,” Sheinkopf said. Rangel won re-election in 2010 with 80% of the vote, the lowest support level he received since his first election.
Rangel has disputed the ethics committee’s findings.
“But the most important thing, if people would read the website of the Ethics Committee, read The New York Times about a month ago, where Sam Roberts put an expose out against the conduct of the committee,” Rangel said Tuesday on CNN’s “Starting Point.” “Right now, that committee is under investigation by private counsel for wrongdoing. And that’s behind us.”
The Times reported that Rangel said he admitted to the accusations under intense pressure from party leaders. The Democrat leadership was telling him, ” ‘If you’re going down the tubes, don’t take the party with you,’ ” the newspaper quoted Rangel as saying.
Rangel, Espaillat and Williams will face fellow Democrats Joyce Johnson, a business executive, and former Rangel intern Craig Schley to win control of the new 13th Congressional District, which stretches from East Harlem to the northwest Bronx.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo endorsed Rangel on Friday, citing his decades of service and ability to “bring things back to the state of New York.”
But New York’s three major daily newspapers each endorsed a different one of Rangel’s opponents, prompting a fierce defense from the New York City native.
When describing a conversation with a top figure at one of the papers, Rangel said, according to Politico, “I looked her in the eye, and I said, ‘Just tell me how the editorial board of The New York Times could say that Clyde Williams would be a better representative for my district, my state and my country.’ “
Williams said the fact that neither Clinton nor President Barack Obama has endorsed Rangel is telling.
“President Clinton came out and said he would not endorse Charlie Rangel because I was involved in this race,” Williams said. “President Obama has not endorsed a Democratic incumbent, which is typically the norm for a president who is sitting in office. So they have not endorsed me, but they have not endorsed him either.”
In the face of a changing district, fellow Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois called Rangel’s challenge a “tough race.”
“The demographics of the district, Harlem and Manhattan, are different,” Gutierrez said on “Early Start.”
Rangel began his long run in the House in 1970 when he defeated another flamboyant longtime Harlem politician, Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., himself weakened by corruption allegations, in the Democratic primary.
Rangel defeated Powell’s son in the 2010 Democratic primary.
The congressman grew up in poverty, was abandoned by his father and lived with an aunt and uncle in the Bronx. The high school dropout enlisted in the Army and was awarded the Bronze Star for valor in the Korean War after helping rescue 40 men trapped behind Chinese lines.
After the war, Rangel used the GI Bill of Rights to earn a degree from New York University and a law degree from St. John’s University. After serving as an assistant U.S. attorney, he was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1966.
CNN’s Alan Silverleib contributed to this report.