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Why hasn't Charlie Rangel stepped down?
After documented reports of his sweetheart deals, influence peddling, unreported assets, and untaxed income, Charlie Rangel is still chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means. Can't anyone tell him to move aside?
 
Francis Wilkinson
Francis Wilkinson

Glenn Beck launched an attack against the Obama administration's "green jobs" director Van Jones in the last week of August. By Labor Day, Jones was FOX-kill. Compare that to the results achieved by The New York Times and The Washington Post, both of which have called for New York Rep. Charles Rangel to step down as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The newspapers began urging Rangel to step aside back in 2008; it's now close to 2010 and Rangel hasn't budged.

Unlike Jones, Rangel doesn't have a colorful past as a leftist and signer of a conspiracy statement suggesting that President Bush knew the planes were headed for the towers. And when it comes to causing a ruckus, the Times and the Post are disadvantaged by their adherence to standards of decorum and fair play that Beck subverts for a living. But Rangel's transgressions appear so plentiful and severe that it's a wonder he still has a job, let alone the chairmanship of the tax-writing committee that the Times calls "one of the most powerful bodies in American government."

The trouble started in July, 2008, when the Times exposed Rangel's possession of four rent-stabilized apartments in a building owned by a major real estate developer. (In New York City, real estate is one part location, two parts politics). The Times calculated that this improbably sweet deal was saving Rangel $30,000 a year in rent.

Four days later, the Post pitched in with a report on another Rangel scandal. For an academic center Rangel had launched with a $1.9 million earmark, and which would be named in his honor, he was soliciting donations from corporate interests that had business before his committee. He even used his congressional letterhead. As if that wasn't unseemly enough, Rangel won a superlative character reference from none other than Donald Trump, who told the Post, "Charlie Rangel is the most honorable, honest politician in Washington." Yikes.

The close timing of the articles was likely pure coincidence—not unlike a bullet coincidentally finding the back of a mobster's head at point-blank range. Rangel had displeased some people in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, perhaps not so much by his endorsement of fellow New Yorker Hillary Clinton for president, which was politics, but by running interference for the Clintons when they began playing the racial angle against Obama after the New Hampshire primary. That was politics, too, but of a sort that some in Rangel's Harlem district and elsewhere didn't much appreciate. A short time later, both the Times and the Post had interesting scoops.

It didn't end there. The Times later reported that Rangel owned a vacation property in the Dominican Republic, acquired on favorable terms, for which he had long failed to pay taxes on rental income. More recently, Rangel altered his congressional financial disclosure form to reveal an additional $500,000 in assets—at a minimum, one-fifth of his total reported wealth—that had somehow slipped his mind. While the House ethics committee investigates, Rangel has wisely opted for the what-a-dunce-I-am! explanation of his conduct. The alternative, of course, is the what-a-sleazeball-I-am! rationale, which spin doctors generally advise against.

Meantime, the gregarious, good-time Charlie is still chairman of Ways and Means. Speaker Nancy Pelosi hasn't pushed him out and it looks like the combined force of the Post and the Times isn't up to the task, either. The Buffalo News last month became the first paper in New York State to call for Rangel's resignation, which might be a sign of momentum, but is more likely just another lament from the north about the habits of politicians downstate. Perhaps Democrats in Washington are afraid to sacrifice Rangel. The next ranking Democrat on the committee is Pete Stark of California, the only professed atheist in Congress. (You can hear the shrieks of hysteria rising in the distance.)

So who knows? Despite all his foul-ups, maybe Rangel will remain chairman of "one of the most powerful bodies in American government." Or maybe his removal will have to wait until someone with real influence and stature in American politics insists that Rangel step down. Someone, that is, like Glenn Beck.

 

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