Congressman Charles Rangel spent years preparing for the legislative role of a lifetime, that of chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Through the late 1980s and into the 1990s, as his seniority grew, political observers in New York watched closely as Mr. Rangel moved closer to his goal. The Republican Congressional victory in 1994 blocked the congressman’s progress, but once the Democrats regained the House in 2006, Mr. Rangel finally achieved his goal of becoming head of Ways and Means.
His constituents-and the entire city-stood to benefit, and Mr. Rangel was nothing if not candid about his power and ambitions. As the head of the House’s tax-writing committee, Mr. Rangel could use his power for the benefit of a city that has suffered at the hands of Sunbelt legislators for decades. The congressman’s tenure as Ways and Means chair figured to be the triumphant climax on a long and distinguished career on Capitol Hill.
Of course, it didn’t exactly work out according to his plans, and now Congressman Rangel very likely will face an array of charges in the House Ethics Committee. A House investigative panel last week reported that charges against Mr. Rangel, which include improperly accepting leases on four rent-stabilized apartments and failure to pay taxes on rental income, merit a trial by the Ethics Committee. If found guilty, Mr. Rangel could be expelled from the House, an inglorious and shameful fate.
When some of the charges came to light two years ago, Mr. Rangel stepped aside from his post as chair of Ways and Means. The arrangement was supposed to be temporary, but few people believe Mr. Rangel will ever again preside over the committee. Some might see this as a personal tragedy. In reality, it is a tragedy for Mr. Rangel’s constituents and all New Yorkers. They could have benefited from the congressman’s power, but now that power has slipped away.
The Ethics Committee should proceed with a full trial, and Mr. Rangel should prepare an aggressive defense. No matter the outcome, it is hard to believe that Mr. Rangel, who is 80 years old, will ever wield the sort of power he dreamed about.
What a way to end a career. And what a waste of power and seniority.