A resolute Rangel waits

Herb Boyd | 4/12/2011, 5:28 p.m.

With nothing definitive and final yet about Congressman Charles Rangel's plight after the House ethics committee promised to deliver charges against him on Thursday, three possible headlines are readied: "Rangel Resigns," "Rangel Settles" or the "Lion of Lenox Avenue Roars."

"I like the last one the best," said Assemblyman Keith Wright, "because I don't believe he'll resign, and if a settlement means he'll have to admit to wrongdoing, then that may be out of the question, too."

At two recent press conferences, Rangel, who has endured a two-year-long investigation by the ethics committee, emitted portions of his characteristic raspy roar, declaring, "I'm in the kitchen, and I'm not walking out."

From any other elected official, it would be nothing more than bluster and blowing in the wind, bravado without substance. But when you've been in office 40 years, pinned down in a freezing foxhole with bullets flying over your head, commended for bravery in battle and shepherded your community through good times and bad times, then a showdown with a committee is low-intensity heat.

But heat nonetheless, and what's at stake is more than Rangel's fate but possibly the fate of other Democratic hopefuls in districts where their victories are far from certain. Their circumstances would be particularly imperiled should Rangel go to trial, an outcome Republicans would relish.

"While Congressman Rangel deserves an opportunity to present his side of the story, an opportunity to make his case, it might not be the best outcome," said State Sen. Bill Perkins. "But all of this is up to him, and we still don't know the charges the committee will present against him."

Those charges will probably include using his congressional stationery to raise funds for a school to be named in his honor at City College, as well as providing a $1 million loophole for a donor, and failure to fully disclose his financial assets and to pay taxes on a villa he owns and rented in the Dominican Republic.

Thus far, there has been no mention of his paid trips to the Caribbean by corporations in violation of congressional rules that forced him to resign as chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Over the last several days, there have been reports of Democrats returning donations from the congressman, perhaps indicating they are convinced of his wrongdoing and feeling any connection to him at this time would be detrimental to their re-election campaigns.

And on Wednesday, a story in a local daily said there were reservations about Rangel's upcoming fundraiser, slated for August 11, from Mayor Bloomberg.

"I don't know whether Charlie Rangel is going to have a fundraiser," said Bloomberg, who's on the list of invitees, told the press. "I don't know what the facts are. We'll just have to wait and see. I had planned to go."

Associates of Rangel's said the gala planned for the Plaza, featuring Aretha Franklin, was still on, "despite what the mayor said," one aide confirmed.

Major Democratic leaders across the nation have either been very quiet on the affair or have declared neutrality. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, "People will wait and see how that plays out. The committee has made its announcement and [outlined] its timetable, and I think that we just have to wait to see how that plays out, because none of us, not any of us, except those on the committee, have any knowledge of what the charges are."