Rangel Defeats Powell in Harlem Grudge Match

Despite alleged ethics violations, Rangel easily wins Democratic primary.

Sept. 14, 2010— -- Embattled veteran Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel turned aside a primary challenge Tuesday from state Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV in a closely watched grudge match between two legendary names in New York and Harlem politics.

Rangel led Powell 51 percent to 24 percent with 97 percent of the precincts reporting, easily surviving what had been billed as the toughest re-election battle of his 40-year-career in Congress. Four other candidates divided the rest of the vote.

"This isn't a win for Charlie Rangel. This is our community's win. It is all of you who spoke," Rangel told supporters at a Harlem restaurant.

He joked about having to face a primary.

"This is new to me, so if I am awkward, you know…" he said.

The throw-the-bums-out mood endangering incumbents across the nation did not prove costly to Rangel, even though a House panel recently charged the lawmaker with violating ethics rules.

Rangel is now nearly certain to win a 21st term in November, because of the Democrats' huge registration edge in Harlem -- once the capital of Black America.

But his victory Tuesday could further complicate the Democrats' chances of maintaining control of the House, by adding to the heavy baggage the party is carrying into the midterm elections.

It was a race echoing in irony and history:

In 1970, Rangel won election to the House by defeating Powell's father, legendary Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, in the Democratic primary. The elder Powell was an icon in Harlem -- a fiery preacher and a brash politician who had become a national voice for civil rights. He too was dogged by scandal.

Forty years later, Powell's son borrowed heavily from Rangel's 1970 playbook, arguing that Rangel had grown out of touch with his district and become an embarrassment to Democrats.

But Rangel, the fourth-ranking House member in terms of senority, showed he has his own flair for history. On Sunday, he went to Harlem's famous Abyssinian Baptist Church, where the elder Powell used to preach, and spoke dismissively of Powell's son.

"I think he's a nice fellow -- used to be a nice young man. And I think God has really blessed him with his dad's good looks, his dad's name. And then God gave up on him," Rangel said.

"I'm the person who's about to defeat him on Tuesday, so I wouldn't think he has very many nice things to say," Powell shot back.

But Powell could not avenge his father's defeat.

Born in Puerto Rico, Powell was 9 years old and living on the island when his father died. He has said he knew his father mostly through letters he received as a young boy.

Despite his pedigree, Powell had difficulty gaining traction on Rangel, in part because of questions raised about his own record. In six years on the New York City Council, and nine years in the state Assembly, Powell authored few pieces of legislation.

The younger Powell was twice accused of rape, although one of his accusers, a 19-year-old Assembly intern, later recanted. No charges were filed in either case. Two years ago, a jury convicted Powell of driving while impaired, a minor infraction, after acquitting him of a drunk driving charge.

After winning election in 1970, the gravelly-voiced Rangel quickly climbed the ladder of power in Congress on the strength of his formidable personal and political skills, and ability to seek compromise.

Rangel co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus and made history when he became the first black chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee in January 2007, a position that made him – before the election of Barack Obama as President – the most powerful African-American politician in the country.

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Rangel also has been a kingmaker. He was the one who paved the way for then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to run for U.S. Senate from New York in 2000.

But after two years of being dogged by allegations of ethics violations, Rangel was forced to give up his committee chairmanship. Over the summer a House panel accused Rangel of 13 counts of violating House rules.

The panel's report detailed what it called a "pattern of indifference or disregard for the laws, rules and regulations of the United States and the House."

Rangel was accused of failing to reveal more than a half million dollars in assets on financial disclosure forms; improperly obtaining four rent-controlled apartments in New York City; and failing to disclose financial arrangements for a villa at a yacht club in the Dominican Republic.

He also was accused of using the Ways and Means chairmanship to raise money for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York.

Rangel has denied wrongdoing. A House trial on the charges could come later this month.

President Obama distanced himself from Rangel in July, when he seemed to suggest it was time for the veteran lawmaker to go.

"He is somebody who is at the end of his career, 80 years old. I'm sure that what he wants is to be able to end his career with dignity, and my hope is that happens," Obama said in an interview with CBS.

Still, some Democrats stayed with Rangel. Former President Bill Clinton recorded robocalls to voters in Rangel's district.

"We need Charlie to go back to Washington, to work with President Obama to say, 'Yes,'" the former President said.