There was a time, I’m sure, when it would have been at least somewhat startling to read a news item with the name Charles Rangel and the phrase “ethics problems” in the title. Now, at least from the perspective of the columnist, dredging up yet another paragraph on the subject has grown to be an exercise in tedium. But this week provided a fresh page to the story when the House of Representatives concluded that Charlie would be facing a hearing in front of the House Ethics Committee.
Specific details aren’t being released yet, but most sources seem to agree that the charges will focus on some deeply discounted, rent stabilized apartments the congressman controls, along with his tireless efforts to preserve a massive tax code loophole benefiting an oil executive who is funneling large sums of money into some of Charlie’s pet projects.
These are only the latest tales of alleged malfeasance, though. The hearings will doubtless raise older questions about the congressman’s poor memory when it comes to paying taxes on his various properties and vacation junkets to the islands funded by high-dollar donors. In the face of all this, the Democrats must be raising the roof to get this albatross off their collective necks, right?
Not so much. Rangel still holds a lot of cards inside the Democratic Party and political graveyards are chock-full of the bones of people who tried to cross him. There is one Democrat — Jonathan Tasini — loudly calling for Charlie to step down, but at the risk of sounding cynical I should probably point out that he’s running for Rangel’s seat in the Sept. 14 primary.
But even if the party won’t clean house on their own, this is an election year. Surely his constituents won’t sit still for this, will they?
Don’t count on any significant backlash from the voters. Rangel’s various ethical problems have been well known for a long time now, but he continues to win reelection with astronomical margins. Take a look at the map of New York’s 15th District some time. Unlike many vast, rural districts around the nation, the 15th is one of the most compact you will find. It runs along a roughly seven mile stretch of the Hudson River, taking in Fort George, Harlem, and Marcus Garvey, as well as grabbing a few plots of land out near LaGuardia Airport.