By Hakim Hasan
Last Thursday the House of Representatives voted 333-79 to censure Congressman Charles B. Rangel after an ethics subcommittee found him guilty on 11 counts of ethics violations. It was the first censure of a congressman since 1983. Some pundits and Rangel supporters have argued that Rangel’s censure constitutes a racial double standard. I don’t subscribe directly to this conclusion.
However, while his censure may not constitute a racial double-standard, I do believe that Rangel was targeted by his political enemies from the moment he assumed chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee for reasons much larger than his own administrative arrogance and accounting sloppiness.
The real problem for Rangel is that the moment Black elected officials have achieved real positions of power race is in play. More than a racial double standard itself, the chain of events leading to Rangel’s censure is linked to a sordid history of official Washington rearing its racist ugly head with a vengeance to deal harshly with Black elected officials once they have achieved real positions of power.
Rangel, 80, represents the 15th congressional district in New York. In November, he was reelected to his 22nd term despite a two-year ethic investigation. Black voters were simply not prepared to throw him under the proverbial bus. He won his first term in 1971 when he defeated Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
Since 1975, Rangel has been a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. The Ways and Means Committee is considered to be the most powerful committee in Washington. Through seniority and political prowess, Rangel rose to assume the chairmanship in 2007. He was the first Black-American to hold this powerful position. This, in my view, was the beginning of the political end for Rangel.
Rangel’s censure is reminiscent of the vicious FBI and Attorney General investigative campaign against former Pennsylvania Congressman William Gray, III back in the late 1990s. Gray was on track to become the first Black-American Speaker of the House.
Gray rose to become the first Black-American to serve as chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee and later as Majority Whip in the House.
After he achieved these powerful positions, details of a FBI investigation into Gray’s financial dealings was “mysteriously” leaked to a CBS reporter.
While Gray was never officially charged with any wrongdoing, he suddenly resigned in 1999 and assumed the position of CEO of the United Negro College Fund. This was unheard of for a politician in his position and many believe that Gray was forced out.
Like Gray, shortly after Rangel had assumed the chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, the press went after him. Was Rangel, like Gray, the victim of strategic and coordinated Washington leaks to the press designed to destroy his credibility and ultimately strip him of his chairmanship? Yes, I believe Rangel was the victim of such a campaign.
Back in late 2007, Geoff Earle, a Washington correspondent for The New York Post, wrote a story about how Rangel was soliciting money from private corporations, who had interests before Congress, for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Policy in at City College in New York.
Almost a year later, in 2008, David Kocieniewski, a reporter for The New York Times, wrote a devastating story detailing how Rangel had secured four rent-stabilized apartments well below market rents in Lenox Terrace, a luxury apartment building in Harlem. One of these apartments was being used to coordinate his election campaign.
Rangel never recovered from these revelations in the press.
Instead of racial double standard, Rangel’s censure is just the racist end game and another cautionary tale about Black politicians who have achieved real and unprecedented positions of power in Washington.
Hakim Hasan is a freelance writer who lives in the New York City metropolitan area. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.