For decades, Republicans have found New York Democratic congressman Charlie Rangel to be one of their most implacable opponents, now it seems to be Democrats who can’t get around the guy. Earlier in the month, President Barack Obama called for the controversial congressman to “end his career with dignity.” Needless to say, Rangel is refusing to give up the official perks he’s enjoyed for 39 years now.
In a tense Monday night debate with some erstwhile challengers he can’t simply dismiss this year, Rangel rebuffed the president’s suggestion saying that Obama was in no position to give him advice.
“Frankly, he has not been around long enough to determine what my dignity is. For the next two years, I will be more likely to protect his dignity.”
Following the debate, he expanded on those sentiments in an interview with the New York Times saying that “How can somebody so much younger tell me how to leave with dignity?”
The debate format was highly unsual for someone running for Congress. Having been in the same seat for nearly 40 years, Rangel was able to demand some extraordinary concessions from debate organizers. The Times’s Michael Barbaro reports:
Long accustomed to being showered with praise and accolades, and surrounded by friendly crowds who treated him like a folk hero, Mr. Rangel could not escape the controversy that has shaped his re-election bid: the 13 charges of ethical violations issued against him by a House panel last month, including hoarding below-market apartments and improper fund-raising. […]
The candidates spoke in the sanctuary of the Convent Avenue Baptist Church in western Harlem. Organizers, including some tenants from Mr. Rangel’s apartment complex, appeared determined to tilt the evening in Mr. Rangel’s favor.
They announced unusual rules, just minutes before the forum began, barring photography and videotaping of the forum, ensuring that any heated moments or slip-ups by Mr. Rangel would not turn up later in a rival’s political ads.
The format for the forum, laid out days ago, had originally called for all the candidates to stand on stage at once, putting them on equal footing. But at the last minute, the organizers e-mailed each campaign with a “slight change”: Mr. Rangel would appear on his own, instead of sharing the podium with his challengers.
His rivals cried foul — Mr. Powell called it “the Democratic machine playing tricks” — but they relented.
Given the vast amount of pork that Rangel has shoveled into his district over the past four decades, it seems unlikely that he’ll be deposed in the primary. A full-scale trial is tentatively set for September in the House in which Rangel has said he will be mounting a defense of himself.