Saturday, July 24, 2010

Will Charlie Wrangle His Way of His Ethics Mess?

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The allegations against him are plentiful, and more than enough to reinforce the old adage that where there's smoke there's fire: that he's taken a $1-million contribution in exchange for political favors; failed to pay taxes on his Dominican villa; accepted a corporate-paid junket to the Caribbean; failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets; and that he's violated Congressional gift rules by renting four heavily subsidized apartments in NYC. For embattled Harlem Congressman Charlie Rangel, the picture certainly looks bleak.

But if you observe the behavior lately of the crafty pol who was stripped in March of his Ways and Means Committee chairmanship, his steadfast defiance suggests a self-serving arrogance that could be very damaging to the vulnerable Democratic Party as it seeks to hold its shaky House majority. (My favorite Rangel moment this week was when he berated on TV the late Tim Russert's son Luke, an NBC/MSNBC reporter who he clearly was unfamiliar with, for trying to "make a name" for himself when he asked if the Congressman was afraid of losing his job. Well as names go in journalism, ya probably can't get much better than Russert. When Ole Charlie was eventually told this by staff, he put tail between legs, called Russert, and issued a public apology)

Rangel is one of those old-school, glad-handing, back-patting, baby-kissing, fake-smiling, carnival-barking, pockets-lining shrewd operatives who give Washington a bad name. When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to "drain the swamp" when she and Democrats won control in 2006, Rangel's ethics violations is the sort of activity she was referring to.

So Charlie the Wrangler may soon be facing the music. Next Thursday, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct will begin issuing its findings as it prepares for embarrassing, headline-grabbing public hearings that Democrats, in this hotly contested, contentious midterm election season, are desperately hoping to avoid. They've been feverishly working with Rangel's team to negotiate a deal--talks which reportedly broke down last week--that would most likely bring either a formal reprimand or censure.

But that's not enough. Rangel, the 80-year-old 20-term legislator, should step down for the good of his party and let Democrats fight its war against the GOP without the burden and shame of his multiple misdeeds hanging over their heads like a Kansas black funnel cloud.

To be sure, it's quite suspect how a career public servant like Rangel could amass so much cash, assets and a Caribbean villa on a Congressman's paycheck. Like I said, where there's smoke there's usually fire....

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