Thursday, a House ethics committee found evidence that Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) allegedly misused public funds, accepted lavish gifts, committed tax fraud and hid income from his beachfront Dominican house.
It’s unlikely that Rangel will be removed from office by his peers, but he is facing an election this year. Rangel runs in New York’s 15th Congressional district, the smallest district in the country. Comprised of Harlem, RikersIsland and industrial parts of Queens, the 15th has a Cook Partisan Voting Index ranking of D+41. Rangel never wins with less than 80 percent of vote in a general election, and he won almost 90 percent of the electorate in 2008.
Rangel has been a member of congress since 1971. He will be celebrating his 80th birthday next month. Now, a tough primary fight is beginning to take shape.
Today, Rangel faces four primary challengers: Adam Clayton Powell IV, the son of famed Harlem Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D); Vincent Scott Morgan, a former Rangel aide and banker; Joyce Johnson; a business executive and Jonathan Tasini, a grassroots labor activist.
Rangel has more than $516,000 in cash on hand, ten times more than his closest competitor. Morgan, for one, is $16,000 in debt. Powell IV is perhaps the strongest challenger with the greatest name recognition, and he has faced Rangel in primaries before. But Powell IV also faces accusations of corruption, and he recently received a drunken driving charge, both of which have hurt his ability to contrast himself with Rangel.
Morgan has run an effective grassroots campaign but is well behind in name recognition and cash. Tasini ran for senate against Hilary in 2006, where he ran to the left of Clinton and was defeated soundly.
While Tasini is again running to the left, Johnson has avoided an ideological campaign. She brings business experience to the table and has hired the consulting firm Penn, Schoen & Berland, whose clients have included then Sen. Clinton and Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
Public Policy Polling has Rangel polling under 40 percent in the primary, which makes him very vulnerable. His closest challenger is Powell IV with 21 percent, then Johnson, Tasini and finally Morgan. 35 percent of voters surveyed in the15th would prefer to see Rangel retire than be returned to office, and only 47 percent approve of his current performance.
Rangel hasn’t faced a significant primary challenge since 1994, when he originally faced Adam Clayton Powell IV. Rangel won the 1994 race with 58% of the vote, but Powell was an effective candidate.
Rangel won his seat from in 1970 with a 150 vote margin, challenging perennial Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D). Powell Jr. was plagued by scandal at the time, and Rangel’s close victory was largely due to his ability to cast Powell as tainted by corruption and persistently absent from congress. Echoes of the 1970 campaign are present today, but this time Rangel is the one who is scandal plagued.
Rangel has no intention of retiring. And he certainly does not want to be removed from office in a primary challenge. Rangel told reporters “I am pleased that, at long last, sunshine will pierce the cloud of serious allegations that have been raised against me in the media.”
However, in a heated exchange with Luke Russert of NBC News, Rangel called an inquiry about his job security a “dumb question” and said “it doesn’t sound like NBC asking these dumb questions. It shows what happened to a channel that did have some respect.”
Hearings on the Rangel ethics violations begin next Thursday. New YorkState’s Primary elections will be held on September 14th.
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at email@example.com