Rangel’s Ways and Means

At one level, it was absurd for House Republicans to charge in a resolution that Representative Charles Rangel of Harlem has “held the House up to public ridicule.” The very people who wrote and voted for that resolution have inspired no shortage of public ridicule themselves.

That said, there is little question that Mr. Rangel’s financial and ethical lapses have prompted public scorn and cynicism. For that reason, he should seize the high ground by stepping down from his position as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee pending completion of a full investigation of his personal finances. He is doing his president, his party and his constituency no good as he hangs on to his powerful post despite troublesome revelations.

It seems fair to say that when a politician’s real estate holdings command greater attention than his policy pronouncements, he is in deep trouble. Such is the case with Mr. Rangel.

New reports have revealed that he has an interest-free mortgage on a villa in the Dominican Republic, that he has four rent-stabilized apartments in Harlem, that he failed to disclose rental income from the Dominican villa and that he solicited donations to a foundation named in his honor on official Congressional letterhead. The congressman says he is guilty of sloppy bookkeeping, but nothing more serious.

The House has been investigating Mr. Rangel for well over a year with no result. Republicans have demanded that Speaker Nancy Pelosi strip Mr. Rangel of his chairmanship, but she has refused. But now that House Democrats have blocked a Republican attempt to force Mr. Rangel from the chair, he can do the right thing by voluntarily stepping aside as head of the House’s tax-writing committee.

New York waited a long time for Mr. Rangel to ascend to the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee. He was waiting in the wings while Republicans ruled the House from 1995 to 2007. When Democrats recaptured the House after the 2006 midterm elections, New York turned to Mr. Rangel as its sugar daddy in Washington.

It hasn’t exactly worked out according to plan. Although Mr. Rangel’s influence no doubt has helped the city in recent years, the ethical cloud hanging over him has diluted his ability to deliver goodies.

At the moment he is burden, not an asset, to his party. It’s time to do the right thing.

Rangel’s Ways and Means