Rep. Charles Rangel. (Photo: Jens Schott Knudsen)
Congressman Charles Rangel (D-New York), formerly one of the most influential members of the House, has been convicted of 11 of 12 ethics charges (he was originally charged with 13, but two were combined). After a nearly two-year investigation, a House subcommittee ethics panel formerly convicted him of improperly soliciting donations for a public center and library bearing his name and omitting over $600,000 of income and assets on disclosure statements. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California), the chair of the House ethics committee, stated, "We have tried to act with fairness led only by the facts and the law, and I believe that we have accomplished that mission."
Now, the full ethics committee will conduct a hearing to determine the appropriate punishment for the Congressman and that recommendation will be sent to the House. The possible sanctions include a House vote deploring Rangel's conduct, a fine and denial of privileges.
With all due respect, it is time for Congressman Rangel to step aside. He was given his presumption of innocence and provided due process. The system ran its course, and the focus must now turn away from the Congressman and to the people of Harlem.
Congressman Rangel has honorably represented the people of the 15th District of New York for 20 terms over 40 years, and it's the people of Harlem that have been the direct beneficiaries of his leadership. He was re-elected to a 21st term on November 2.
What should not get lost in the debate about ethics charges, trials and parking violations is his laser-like focus on the interests and needs of the people he has served. What should not get lost in the focus on his personal battles is an understanding of the positions he took in 1969 on the Vietnam War; his position that the "War on Drugs" was anti-people - you can't focus on the user and not the supplier; or his 2003 stand to "democratize" the military to ensure that those with the least were not sacrificed to protect those with the most. It's been about the people.
His life and politics have been shaped by the people of Harlem. Throughout his political career, he has been a strong voice of support for social programs such as Medicare, Head Start, Social Security and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
Congressman Rangel understood the impact that drugs were having on the community long before that issue became a political football. As a member of Congress, Rangel has used his personal power and the power of the committees that he has participated in and chaired for the good of the people.
In spite of all of this political history and accomplishment, Rangel has reduced most of his political legacy to a battle for his political life. The battle is over; it's time to surrender. The longer he drags this out, the worse it will be for him, his legacy and the people he was sent to Congress to represent.
It is ironic that he is suffering the same fate as the man he replaced, The Reverend and Hon. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Powell represented Harlem in Congress for 26 years, and during his tenure, served as chairman of the powerful Education and Labor Committee. Following allegations that Powell had misappropriated committee funds for his personal use, the House Democratic Caucus stripped Powell of his committee chairmanship. The full House refused to seat him until completion of an investigation by the Judiciary Committee. Rangel defeated Powell in the Democratic primary in 1970.
A proud and brilliant political mind has been reduced to an unfortunate pubic spectacle. Rangel's initial legal team quit out of fear that he would not be able to pay the $1 million for his trial. He has stated that he cannot afford an attorney and requested more time to raise the needed funds.
Congressman Rangel could have made this go away months ago with an admission of guilt on some fairly minor charges. His ego would not allow him to clearly see and accurately assess the reality before him. One must never underestimate the blindness that attends arrogance. Proverbs 16.18 states, "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
Once again, a great career in Harlem must come to a close. Congressman Rangel is suffering the same fate as the man he replaced. Those who fail to study and learn from history are doomed to repeat it.