Rangel vows to ‘get involved’ in race to succeed him

a-Rangel_0.png

Retiring Rep. Charlie Rangel said he has not formally endorsed any of the eight Democratic candidates seeking to replace him in June’s primary, but said at a forum last night that he plans on being very involved in the race.

By Azi Paybarah l Politico New York

Retiring Rep. Charlie Rangel said he has not formally endorsed any of the eight Democratic candidates seeking to replace him in June’s primary, but said at a forum last night that he plans on being very involved in the race.

“How could I not? I don’t know how not to get involved,” he told a room full of Democrats.

Back in December, the New York Post — citing a video of Rangel’s remarks at a closed-door fund-raiser — quoted the 85-year-old Harlem pol saying he was backing Assemblyman Keith Wright, and encouraging others to back him too.

In a scrum with reporters after the forum, Rangel said he has not endorsed anyone.

“What I have said is, one: I’m going to get involved. Two, I have ideas of who I like, but three, they’ve got to keep this community together,” Rangel said. “And my not endorsing will have more leverage in making certain that nobody thinks they’re going to play any card here that’s not consistent with the tranquility we’ve had here, politically … [for] close to have a century.”

He added, “I may not be able to help somebody, but I know damn well I can hurt somebody.”

The remarks echo complaints Rangel has previously made about State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who challenged Rangel in Democratic primaries in 2012 and 2014. 

Rangel and Espaillat, who would have been the first Dominican-born member of Congress, accused each other of making racial appeals to voters during their 2014 race.

Neither Espaillat nor Wright participated in the forum on Thursday night, where Rangel sat in the front row and appeared to cast a long shadow over the race. At one point, he called out to respond when candidate Adam Clayton Powell IV said the district was, physically, the smallest in the nation.

Powell was joined on stage by four other candidates: former DNC political director Clyde Williams, Assemblyman Guilllermo Linares, Harvard-educated typographer and stay-at-home dad Michael Gallagher, and faith leader Suzan “Sujay” Johnson Cook. (State Senator Bill Perkins, who is also running, did not attend.)

About 40 minutes into the two-hour forum, the candidates were asked whether they had supported Rangel’s re-election in 2014.

The question is a tricky one, not simply because several of the candidates have both run against and endorsed Rangel, but also for the broader consideration about how to navigate Rangel's legacy. There are signs of voter fatigue with the congressman, who has served for more than four decades in the House, but he is still a commanding presence with a base of dedicated voters who helped him weather a 2010 censure, and two difficult primaries.

Williams, who ran against Rangel in 2012 but endorsed him in 2014, was the first candidate to respond, calling it “a very easy question” to answer.

“I endorsed Charlie Rangel when he ran for Congress … I thought he was the most qualified of the three people who were running. Secondly, he was the only person who picked up the phone and called and asked for my endorsement.”

He added, “I thought he was the best person to represent us. Now, when I ran against him in 2012, I thought I was the best person, but you all decided not to make me the person to represent you.”

Powell, who ran against Rangel in 1994 and in 2010 but later endorsed him, said, “I ran against the congressman a couple of times, but you chose to continue with Charlie Rangel. And I was glad to support him in both 2012 and in 2014.” (Powell's father, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., held the seat before Rangel defeated him in a Democratic primary in 1970.)

The other attendees — none of whom have previously run against Rangel — all said they supported had supported him numerous times.

(Perkins supported Rangel after some very public arm-twisting.)

Linares, Powell and Williams expressed opposition to the proposed rezoning and higher-density housing slated for Upper Manhattan, under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s citywide plan to build affordable housing.

Powell was the most combative of the participants, disagreeing with Williams about whether to send “boots on the ground” in the Middle East, though. Powell made clear he opposed that idea, though Williams immediately protested, and noted that he never called for that.

Later, Powell said he disagreed with Gallagher on the biggest national security threat facing the nation. Gallagher had said it was nuclear proliferation, but Powell said there was no nuclear proliferation problem, and that “guns [are the] greatest national security threat.”

On education, Gallagher said he is “torn” over the issue of charter schools. Linares said he opened the first Latino charter school, which became unionized. Powell said charters got their opportunity because of the failings of traditional public schools.

After the forum, Rangel smiled when reporters asked if he could beat any of the candidates vying to succeed him.

“There’s absolutely no question in my mind," he said.

Asked what it felt like to watch the race, without being part of it, Rangel said, "I’m giving up in Washington but I’m not giving up in this community. No matter who wins, they’re going to have one goddamn constituent working.”