WASHINGTON -- After all the dramatic buildup to the release of the 13 ethic charges leveled against veteran black Cong. Charles Rangel of New York, uncomfortable times wait now for him and his fellow democrats.
Cong. Gene Greene (D-Tex.) told reports that his four-member investigative subcommittee did not seek the high-level punishments of censure or expulsion, opting for a mid-level sanction that requires the full House to approve it but carries no other penalty.
That’s good timing for Rangel, who can insist on the campaign trail that he hasn’t yet been found in violation of anything by the full committee or the House. But it’s terrible timing for House Democratic leaders, who would like to see the matter resolved well before the November midterm elections.
Meanwhile, the list of charges hang over Rangel and the Democratic majority — and will be used as a bludgeon by Republican campaign operatives.
“I think it’s a tragic interruption of what was a great career,” said Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who was on the ad hoc committee that investigated Powell and who later co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus with Rangel.
“We have to restore the public trust,” Texas Rep. Michael McCaul said at the opening of Rangel’s preliminary ethics “trial.”
“If Rep. Rangel has broken the law or violated House rules, he should be punished,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “If what he’s done is legal, the law should be changed.”
“It will be up to the Ethics Committee, and ultimately the full House, to determine Mr. Rangel’s fate,” said Edgar. “But regardless of the outcome of this case, voters should be concerned about a fundraising system in which corporate executives routinely gain access to members of Congress and their staffs by writing big checks – whether it is to a member’s campaign committee or his favorite charity. It’s hard to see a meaningful distinction between what Rep. Rangel allegedly did with CUNY and what members of Congress routinely do to raise campaign money.”
"Mr. Rangel was given multiple opportunities to settle this matter. Instead, he chose to move forward to the public trial phase," said Rep. Jo Bonner of Alabama, the senior Republican on the ethics panel.
Chairman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., has made clear that she wants the committee to be unanimous — leaving little chance for agreement without Rangel capitulating on virtually all counts.
Many Democrats had urged Rangel to settle the case to avoid the prospect of televised hearings right before November congressional elections that will determine which party controls Congress next year. However, as Thursday's public airing of the charges drew nearer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seem resigned to the case proceeding. "The chips will have to fall where they may politically," she told reporters. Pursuing ethics cases against House members is "a serious responsibility that we have."
But many Harlemites say they've lost faith in the man who represented them in Congress for 40 years.
Barry Johnson, 62, said Rep. Charles Rangel should call it a career after being formally hit with 13 ethics violations, saying "When you do something that breaks the rules, you should be punished for it. He did some good for a long period of time, but it's time for someone new."
Other residents praised the work Rangel had done for the district, but said his place in Harlem history was compromised.
"He paved the way for a lot of programs here," said one Harlemite "He's part of a legacy. Now, at the end of his career, they tarnish it. And now it's going to be harder to pass on that legacy."
Randolph Cary thought Rangel's best option was to retire rather than have his dirty laundry aired during an ethics trial. "He had a great career. I'd hate to see him go out like this," said Cary, 47. "I really don't want to see his reputation tarnished. I'd rather see him retire."
Others were holding out hope that he would beat the charges.
"If he wants to fight it, I think he should fight it," Vanessa Riley, 46, said. "He has that right. He doesn't want to go out under a cloud. Fight it."