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Dan Collins

Dan Collins

Posted: November 16, 2010 04:51 PM

No Tears for Charlie Rangel

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Let's see if we have this straight.

Two years ago the House Ethics Committee began investigating New York's own Charlie Rangel.

When this sort of thing happens, lawmakers tend to lawyer up. This has never made much sense to me, particularly when, as in Rangel's case, there isn't all that much dispute about the facts in hand.

But Washington is Washington, and Rangel was advised to form a legal defense fund, which is the accepted method of getting your supporters and friendly special interests to pay the tab.

Rangel didn't bother. But he got the lawyers anyway, and paid for them with a pot of campaign funds.

Then, in August, he made a passionate, rambling speech on the House floor begging the ethics committee to swiftly hear his case and end his suffering. The 80-year-old congressman spoke at an emergency session called to approve additional aid to the states.

"If this is an emergency session to help our local and state governments out, what about me?" Rangel asked his esteemed colleagues.

The ethics panel began the hearing Monday. Rangel walked out because he had run out of money -- that wasn't his to begin with -- to pay his exceedingly expensive ($1.6 million) lawyers.

The committee then found him guilty on 11 counts.

Rangel is protesting that it was unfair for the committee to make this decision when he wasn't even in the room.

"How can anyone have confidence in the decision of the ethics subcommittee when I was deprived of due process rights, right to counsel and was not even in the room?" he said.

In an earlier statement, the congressman lamented: "They can do what they will with me because they have the power and I have no real chance of fighting back."

I don't know about you, but I've had enough of this guy.

Actually, he lost me back at the beginning, when we learned he was getting four rent stabilized apartments. There are not enough affordable apartments to go around in this city. Anybody who had a luxury villa in the Dominican Republic didn't deserve any. Definitely not four.

By the way, he was renting that villa out when he wasn't using it, and failing to pay taxes on the profits. He waved that off, saying it wasn't his fault because everybody kept talking to him in Spanish. This lost him many of the people who hadn't jumped off the bus at the three-apartment stop.

In retrospect, the smartest thing Rangel could have done back when the whole scandal surfaced would have been to say he was sorry, and take the hand-slap of a punishment the Ethics Committee was patently eager to dole out, thus closing the books on the whole sorry episode.

But this is Charlie Rangel, the jewel of the New York City House delegation. He roared, and protested. Then he dumped the whole thing in the lap of a team of very expensive lawyers, whose fees he paid out of campaign funds.

Then he moved on to a series of public scenes, in which he made incoherent professions of innocence and outrage.

The 20-term political icon is not only acting like a guilty man, he's acting like a crazy guilty man.

On one level, this is tragedy. Rangel was a genuine pioneer. He was one of the most powerful people in Congress, and possibly the most powerful African-American this side of Barack Obama.

And he was genuinely popular - on the Hill, in Harlem, wherever he went. But somewhere along the line, he began believing his own press. He was too important to bother with details like taxes or rent laws or the House rules. When something got in his way, he tossed it to an aide. And when that didn't work, he roared.

When that didn't work, he played the victim. "I truly believe I am not being treated fairly," he said at the committee hearing. Then he walked out and complained that the committee was making a decision in his absence.

His stubborn vanity lost him the chairmanship - and he lost it for us, too. New York could use a little influence - even if it was just a ranking member - now that the Republicans are taking control.

Tough for us. No tears for him.