Rangel Warns of ‘Insulting’ ‘Newcomers’ Seeking His Seat—and the White House

"We see this happening at a national level, where newcomers are insulting the community by saying 'why not me?'" Charles Rangel said, apparently alluding to Clyde Williams and Bernie Sanders.

Congressman Charles Rangel, center, with West Harlem Progressive Democratic Club President Corey Ortega, left.
Congressman Charles Rangel, center, with West Harlem Progressive Democratic Club President Corey Ortega, left.

Retiring Congressman Charles Rangel told a Harlem audience today that outside interests were looking to take over his upper Manhattan and Bronx district and the White House—an apparent jab at one of his aspiring successors, and at Sen. Bernie Sanders, the underdog Democratic contender for the presidency.

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Mr. Rangel addressed the crowd gathered for the West Harlem Progressive Democratic Club debate, and argued that only an experienced, well-established figure would be qualified to succeed him. Many in the room chuckled, apparently taking it as a reference to candidate Clyde Williams, a former White House aide who moved to the district from his native Washington, D.C. in 2001 and ran against the congressman in 2012.

“The tranquility of this district, historically, would be lost if any candidate was not respected in all parts of this congressional district. If they weren’t known, they should have got themselves known,” Mr. Rangel said. “Some people are newcomers to New York City and wherever they come from. But they have to know the community planning boards. They have to know the community leaders. And if they don’t know them, they should have been here long enough to be known themselves, for what they want to do. This is no time for someone to wake up and say they want to be a congressman.”

The 45-year representative also made an allusion to Mr. Williams’ large fundraising hauls, which have included sizable donations from financial firms, and from individuals and interests based in the Capitol and in Los Angeles. These on their own, he suggested, could make an unqualified contender competitive.

“Sometimes with a lot of money, coming from strange places, sometimes these things can happen,” he said.

Most politicos expect Mr. Rangel to eventually endorse Harlem Assemblyman Keith Wright, a longtime ally whose campaign staff includes multiple veterans of the congressman’s past re-election efforts. Mr. Wright and Mr. Williams, along with former Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook, are all African-Americans based in Harlem—a population that makes up a diminishing share of the increasingly Latino district.

Three Hispanic candidates are running for the seat: former Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, Assemblyman Guillermo Linares and State Senator Adriano Espaillat. Mr. Espaillat was the only one absent from today’s debate.

The congressman, a close confidante of Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, argued the same standards should apply to those seeking to succeed President Barack Obama.

“We see this happening at a national level, where newcomers are insulting the community by saying ‘why not me?'” he said, apparently alluding to indignation from the Sanders camp that black voters have favored Ms. Clinton over himself in presidential primaries so far.

The Vermont senator’s campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The 85-year-old lawmaker refused to say exactly who he was talking about afterward.

“I don’t know. You just have to check newcomers and money, that’s all,” he said. “I don’t want to start anything, okay?”

But he did elaborate on what he saw as the issue with large donations coming from sources with no apparent connection to the district.

“I think anybody gets any money from anybody should justify why it’s there,” he said. “If it comes in large amounts, and you cannot imagine what it has to do with the community. If I got a large amount of money from—I can’t imagine, just something that’s just not reflective of the needs of the community. Like Iran.”

Mr. Williams did not receive any donations from Iran, but did get a single contribution from an individual in Singapore. But he defended his fundraising to the Observer, and seemed to contrast himself with Mr. Wright, who chairs the Assembly’s Housing Committee and has received contributions from real estate interests.

“It the end of the day, I’m not taking money from people I have oversight over. Anybody who gave me money, is just people who are entitled to give me money,” he said. “We did it by the rules. So I don’t know what he means by that.”

Mr. Williams also came under fire from debate moderator Gerson Borrero for refusing to release the full results and all information about an internal poll his campaign conducted, which it leaked in part to the media. State election law requires campaigns to disclose all details of a poll if they disclose any parts.

“I didn’t make it public,” the candidate insisted, maintaining that releasing partial findings to the media does not constitute making a poll public.

Rangel Warns of ‘Insulting’ ‘Newcomers’ Seeking His Seat—and the White House