Birthday Party Over, Rangel Will Face the Music

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) acknowledges the support of the crowd during a party marking his 80th birthday August 11, 2010 in New York City. The party and fundraising gala at New York's Plaza Hotel was held on schedule despite a slate of 13 alleged ethics violations against the venerable congressman and a potential House trial in September. Rangel's actual birthday was on June 11.

    In his autobiography, Congressman Charles Rangel recalled the frightening day in Korea when, in sub-freezing weather, he led 40 men out of an ambush by Chinese troops. He won a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

    That experience gave him the title for the book: “And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since.”

    But he’s had many bad days this year -- as the House Ethics Committee filed 13 charges of ethical violations against him and Republicans tried to make him the poster boy for corruption in their nationwide campaign to take back the House and the Senate.

    Yet, on Wednesday night at the Plaza Hotel, Charlie Rangel once again basked in the glory of the Democratic establishment as he was being congratulated on his birthday.

    Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic candidate for Governor, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, David Dinkins and many others came -- and Governor Paterson was the emcee.

    For good measure Mayor Bloomberg was there too, wisecracking that the no shows to the fund raiser didn’t come because “they had a sudden urge to get a haircut" or “were sure they’d have a headache.”

    For Rangel it was a rare moment for a kind of revenge against his critics. He was delighted with the reaction of David Dinkins, who, when a bystander shouted “crook!” at him as he walked into the hotel, gave the man the finger.

    Rangel in a sense believed he was giving all his critics a finger. And, after asking the audience to pray for him, left the stage dancing.

    Yet one political consultant, Hank Sheinkopf, was critical. He told me: “He’s made his point. He’s not doing himself any good by criticizing the Congress and defying his critics. Instead of going out as a guy who did the right thing, he’s not being dignified.”

    But the party’s over now and Rangel has to face the music. He must defend himself in the House.

    He has demanded a speedy trial and, although Republican strategists may prefer to drag this process out until just before Election Day, it’s likely the Democrats won’t allow it.

    So, it basically boils down to the answers to two questions: Can he win reelection to his seat in Congress in the primary and election this fall? And, will he be able to convince the Congress and the people of the United States that, while he may have erred in some respects, he still has a great record of achievement for the people in his district and the country at large?

    Quoting Rangel from his own book:  “I do know, as a good poker player, that I am not the ultimate dealer in this game.”