What Now for Charlie Rangel?
One argument for his re-election was allowing him to retire with dignity. Now that's he's been found guilty of violating House rules, any exit will be messy.
The process, which has gone on for two years, is not without its critics. Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, told the New York Times, "There's no good reason why it should have taken so long to bring a relatively simple case to a head." And Fields agrees with the notion of finding a way to provide legal counsel for these sorts of noncorruption charges so that a House member isn't forced to go out and do what got him or her into trouble in the first place: raise money.
But perhaps in an act of defiance -- or even denial -- Rangel refused to set up a legal defense fund, though urged by the ethics panel to do so months ago. When he came before the panel for the start of the hearing Monday, he claimed to be broke. By all accounts, Rangel has spent about $2 million on his defense so far and may need still another $1 million going forward. "At some point common sense has to prevail, and so far I don't think it has," Fields said.
Ultimately, nostalgia and malaise need to be set aside in the district. But Rangel has faced no viable challenge to his incumbency. A little-known New York gubernatorial candidate running under the banner of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party garnered far more media attention than Rangel's opposition in the congressional race -- both in the primary and the general elections.
The Rangel case should be taken up by the full Committee on Standards of Official Conduct by Thursday, then go before the entire House for a final decision on punishment.
E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is a Southerner based in New York.