Charlie Rangel held on to his seat toward his 22nd term as the “lion of Harlem” last night.
Rangel was fighting to keep the House of Representatives seat he has held since 1971.
His district, which includes Harlem, has changed over the years and through redistricting, with an increasing Latino population reflected in the strong challenge by state senator Adriano Espaillat, who would have been the first Dominican-American elected to Congress. Another opponent was Clyde Williams, a former White House staffer for former president Bill Clinton.
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Rangel faced criticism after being censured in 2010 for ethics violation. He was accused of not paying all income taxes or reporting personal income accurately. He was also accused of improperly leasing rent-stabilizing apartments in Harlem.
After this, his power – primarily after stepping down as chairman of the influential House Ways and Means Committee – was diluted, said David Birdsell, dean of Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs.
“A still senior member, yet a member with wings very much clipped by the ethics action,” Birdsell said.
But the longtime representative maintained a strong base of support throughout the years.
“He has a very strong base, and he’s delivered for his base for 40 years,” said Fordham University political science professor Christina Greer. “Many people can separate Rangel as the embattled congressman -- many people see that he was kind of scapegoated in some way -- versus the Rangel congressman who’s been fighting for a very specific community for 40 years.”
Now, Rangel might be a target for Republicans as November approaches, Birdsell said.
“Any ethics-tainted member of the House is going to be a talking point for the GOP,” he said. “On the national stage, it’s probably better for Democrats not to have him around.’
And the “lion” might not have as much roar as he did before.
“He was a fiery and effective speaker during his heyday,” Birdsell said. “I think it’s safe to say that that’s no longer the case.”
Still, Greer said, he knows the halls of Congress.
“He actually knows how to get things done. He knows how to pass a bill,” she said. “There’s something to be said about seniority, even if he’s been stripped of a committee title.”