'I am here,' Rangel declares

4/12/2011, 5:29 p.m.

Congressman Charles Rangel, charged with 13 violations by the House ethics committee, took the House floor Tuesday and, in effect, began his defense.

Allotted an hour to express his feelings about the charges, the 80-year-old representative from Harlem, though at times imprecise and often resorting to the third person when referring to himself, threw down the gauntlet and let his colleagues know that he was not quitting, that "I am here."

"I rise to the floor because the newspapers and the media have indicated that there's a concern of some of the members of this House that I retire or I remove myself from this body, and I've always tried to play by the rules," he said after commanding time that many of his fellow Democrats preferred to spend celebrating the passing of a new jobs bill.

The congressman is certainly right about the mainstream media and its attacks on him. "They will do everything they can to discredit him," said political consultant Bill Lynch in a recent interview.

A recent story in the New York Post is perhaps indicative of Lynch's concern.

According to the paper, Rangel was defiant in his defense of Alianza Dominicana, an Upper Manhattan charity group that is enduring financial woes.

"Anyone who wants to challenge the integrity of Alianza Dominicana, talk to the people that have been the beneficiaries of it," Rangel said during a pre-Dominican Day Parade breakfast at the Mamajuana Cafe on Dyckman Street.

Alianza, the Post reported, owes $280,000 to its employees and is slated to receive $2.5 million from the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (UMEZ), which is a nonprofit organization associated with Rangel.

Ken Knuckles, president and CEO of UMEZ, told the Amsterdam News that the Post story was misleading in several ways. "We didn't guarantee any of the loans," he explained. He said the funds provided for the six-story building behind the Audubon Ballroom--and the last work designed by the late Max Bond--is money for the "fit out or build out" or completion of a building that "will be a community asset [while] trying to preserve" many cultural aspects, Knuckles concluded.

Meanwhile, Rangel is trying to protect and preserve his illustrious career. During his floor speech, he made several references to his 40 years in Congress and the contributions he has made.

"I'm the guy who was raising money in Republican districts to get you here," he reminded some of his Democratic colleagues, many of whom are facing reelection bids and are wary of being too closely associated with him.

Some of Rangel's imprecision occurred when referring to the right-wing organization that has played no small part in precipitating the investigation by the House by funneling the information it gathered to news outlets.

"And lastly, I close by saying that there is an organization that some of you know, certainly...'National Truth in Government,' whatever, and the only thing I can say that some of my more important Democrats on the list have sent out mail soliciting money in order to get rid of me, even before I became the chairman. And they have a website that I will be giving you because they got a lot of our members, including my caucus members, on their list.