Less than a year ago, Rep. Charles Rangel stood defiantly on the House floor, defending himself in a rambling soliloquy against calls that he resign amid accusations of ethics violations.
This time, the New York Democrat’s colleagues were the ones who stood – to heap him with praise.
Rangel – whose colleagues overwhelmingly censured him in a rare public rebuke just 10 months ago – got his day in the sun on Thursday, when the GOP-led Ways and Means Committee hosted an hour-long ceremony to unveil a portrait of Rangel that will hang permanently in its hearing room.
“He’s just the greatest,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, grinning.
“You are the one who’s a champion for those who need it the most,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who called him “someone I feel so blessed to count as a friend.”
“On behalf of all of us in the House, know that we’re proud of you, proud of your accomplishments,” said Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) as Rangel beamed.
More than a hundred of his fans stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the opulent committee room, where wine was poured and a classical string trio played, and where Rangel blew kisses and was greeted often with thunderous applause. The loudest cheer broke out when his wife, Alma, lifted a curtain on the portrait – a $64,500 creation by Silver Spring, Md.-based artist Simmie Knox that Rangel had started to plan for soon after he became Ways and Means chair.
No direct mentions were made of the elephant in the room – the ethics violations that led to Rangel losing his committee gavel and the 333-79 vote by the House to censure him once he was found guilty of those charges. But there were vague references, with Schumer noting that Rangel – a decorated war veteran and 21st-term congressman – was a man who’s had his share of difficult circumstances.
“Everybody has their good times, everybody has their bad. We all know that,” Schumer said. “But no matter what the times were like, this man, this great, wonderful man who I am so lucky to have as a mentor and friend to me … his spirit is so strong and so good.”
Rangel was found guilty by an ethics panel of 11 counts of ethics violations. Allegations included charges that he improperly solicited money from corporate officials and lobbyists for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York, did not disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars of income, kept a rent-stabilized apartment in New York as a campaign office, and did not pay income taxes on a villa in the Dominican Republic.
But for Rangel on Thursday, that was all in the past.
“My life is a story that anyone can make it,” Rangel said happily. “From a high school dropout to the chair of this great committee.”