The Best Party

The respectable party last night was at the Sheraton.

But the truly great victory celebration was in Harlem, where Charlie Rangel and a few close friends celebrated his ascension to the House Ways and Means chairmanship.

It turned out to be a seven-hour affair in a bar and lounge across the street from his offices in the Adam Clayton Powell building on 125th street. Rangel wore a typically well-tailored suit, with a gold Congressional clip on his burgundy tie and a white button on his lapel that said “Bush” with a black line through it.

“You have no idea what it is like to be held hostage by the Republicans in the House,” he said. “The Republicans didn’t understand what was going on. But the people got it!”

Between camera flashes and throaty cheers, Rangel took a weak stab at modesty.

“It’s the most exciting thing to happen tonight,” he said. “My chairmanship is like a grain of sand on a vast beach compared to the intelligence of all the voters.”

“The President has the responsibility to determine whether or not to be a lame duck,” he added. “What a great opportunity for the country!”

Surrounded by the old guard of Harlem’s power structure, men who leaned on canes and who had been waiting for this day like the coming of the Messiah, Rangel sipped a glass of white wine and sat in the corner of the lounge. Ibrahima Niangi, a 55-year-old taxi driver, looked at Rangel and exclaimed “Thank you God!” Latecomers were led to his seat, where some literally bowed before him.

With power now headquartered in uptown Harlem, the stars of the Sheraton flowed uptown. Eliot Spitzer and his wife Silda, smiles stamped on their faces, came to pay their respects to the new DC boss, who will have control over much of the nation’s fiscal policy. David Paterson and his wife also came to pay homage. (“I don’t know if he is the most powerful,” said Paterson. “But he is feeling the most power.”) Joe Crowley, a congressman and the Queens Democratic leader, asked Rangel if he had to now kiss his ring, and then hung on every one of the next Chairman’s words intently, as if trying to pick up lessons.

In the spacious bar well past 1:30 in the morning, people were still drinking heavily, breaking glasses and watching TV’s — adorned with red “Mr. Chairman” signs, autographed by Rangel — displaying maps of the country turning blue. Well-wishers and whispering old men sought audiences with Rangel the whole night. To the former he smiled and slapped shoulders. To the latter he nodded back meaningfully.

The Rangel era had begun.

–Jason Horowitz