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Keisha Sutton-James

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Why Rangel Gets My Vote: One Harlemite's Viewpoint

Posted: 06/25/2012 7:36 pm

I am a native Harlemite and a proud Rangel supporter. Am I deeply troubled by the fact that lower class and even middle class native Harlemites are losing their hold on our neighborhood, the fact that so many of our young men are unemployed and so many of our women and girls are caught in a downward spiral? Is the drug and gang violence in our neighborhood out of control? Are our schools a crying shame? Yes. Yes. And yes. Indeed, there are even more ills that plague our community. Is there more work to be done? Absolutely! I just think that of our choices, Rangel is the best person for the job. Period.

This isn't news to anyone who knows me and it most likely is not a surprise to anyone who can read my name. Yes, I am Percy Sutton's granddaughter. Yes, my grandfather was one of Congressman Charles Rangel's closest advisers, supporters and champions. And yes, I interned in Rangel's congressional offices. Of course, I am aware that those factors play into my strong conviction that Rangel is the man for me.

But that is not it. Not at all. I have my reasons and they are common reasons. I guess that is why I find the voice of criticism so intriguing.

I hear opponents and their supporters say that Rangel is too old and has been in office too long. Says who, I ask when I hear that. I find that criticism so arbitrary and subjective. And since when is age and experience a liability in Congress?

From my perspective, I agree with Rev. Al Sharpton, who recently said at the Morehouse baccalaureate, "Youth is not an achievement." In my view, the fact that they are younger and have less experience is anything but an asset. In fact, in a system that is entirely run on seniority (face reality folks: that is how Washington operates), I am not at all interested in trading a senior representative for a freshman. I don't care who the freshman is; Rangel's relationships in and outside of DC, and pure know-how far out weigh that of the other candidates. That is what I want fighting for my district on the floor of the Capitol.

The second most common reason people are saying Rangel ought to go is that "it is time." Again, says who? Last I checked, the job of a US Representative it to represent his or her constituency. There is no confusion in the title, folks. He is called a Representative. And that he does- better than most!

As a voter, the very first thing I ask myself when considering a candidate, "Does he/ she represent me?" I actually listen to what they say about the issues and think about whether the views and positions of the candidate are in line with my opinions and needs, as well as those of my neighbors. Further, I look at what they have actually done to bring those positions to action because talk is cheap. Rangel has got all of that covered. And to be perfectly honest, I have heard very little from any of the candidates that is a compelling justification for the aforementioned trade-off.

Additionally- and this gets to the emotion behind voting and politics- Rangel makes me proud when debating. When I see him speaking out or arguing his point with conservative opponents, he articulates his opinions- and mine- with the passion and vigor that I would, were I on the TV or debating the issue in the Capitol instead of him. Ok, I got ahead of myself there; I wish I knew how to do it the way he does! He makes it a spectator sport. I can actually cheer him on as I would the Knicks in a rare win! The point is that it feels good when my guy gets one in, and wins the debate or passes legislation that will benefit my community.

So for those of you who have not thought about the issues or considered his accomplishments, I am not going to use this forum to run through his legislative record. Instead, I invite you to check out his website for yourself. And please compare and contrast with that of each of his opponents. I think you will be interested by what you find (or don't).

What I find most interesting is the new Harlemites who are working hard to unseat Congressman Rangel. As a native Harlemite, I relish the fact that the whole world now knows what I have known my entire life: that Harlem offers residents a real neighbor-hood (where neighborhood means community) with an incredible stock of lovely homes in close proximity to midtown Manhattan. However, when the rest of America was too afraid to come to Harlem, Rangel was out there representing us with dignity and fighting to bring the resources that the community needs. When my mother and I had no choice but to leave our neighborhood to do our grocery shopping, banking, movie-watching because we couldn't find quality fresh produce in our neighborhood or because there were literally three national bank branches between 110th and 135th, these now new Harlemites were sitting in their sofas in their cramped apartments on the Upper West Side... but taking in all of the comfort and amenitities it had to offer. That was a time when Harlem was considered inhospitable to many. Not even seven years ago, I had a client ask me if I went home in an armored car, for it was so unsafe in Harlem. Those who have now made Harlem their beloved home weren't coming above 96th street for anything back then. We used to stand in front of them on the buses and trains so that we could be assured a seat for the remainder of the ride home. But what is now home to them was once considred by them to be a gun-riddled, cracked-out hinterlands.

For better or for worse, it was Rangel's empowerment zones legislation, as well as other factors, that attracted the capital that now makes Harlem a place these newcomers can and do call home. Now not only do we have banks and quality grocery stores, but Duane Reade, New York Sports Club and other retail giants have made their way uptown, making life more comfortable for many residents and attracting my new neighbors. Yet somehow, these are the very same people who are most often the ones who think "it is time" for Rangel to retire. Instead of saying thank you, they say goodbye. I know I will get flack from friends of my own who fall in that category- a lot of them! But I cannot deny the striking irony of this. It has got to be said.

Finally, to anyone in the electorate who is reading this, I ask you to consider who is behind this movement. Who is funding it? What are their objectives? What do they stand to gain? Why do they really want Rangel to step down? To tell you the truth, I don't know all of these answers. But I am sure it is not just, "it is time."