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Standing on the shoulders of Rangel

Stephon Johnson | 4/12/2011, 4:38 p.m.

Congressman Charlie Rangel: We have your back.

That was the theme of Thursday morning's news conference outside of City Hall, where fellow politicians, nonprofit leaders and businessmen all stood up for the embattled Rangel, who has faced attacks from the right wing calling for him to step down from some of his more prominent positions on congressional committees.

"It's a bum rush, as one might say," said State Sen. Bill Perkins. "It will create guilt without process, and I don't think in that respect it's anti-American, it's unfair. And it's almost clearly contrived in some respects." Perkins was joined by figures like former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, former City Comptroller H. Carl McCall and the Rev. Calvin Butts.

Herbert Pardes, president and CEO of New York Presbyterian Hospital, chimed in as well. "In this country, you're presumed innocent before you're proved guilty, and that should apply to everybody," he said.

Rangel is facing serious repercussions if the House of Representatives' investigation decides that he mismanaged personal funds and improperly accepted free trips--a subject that Rangel has openly discussed with the AmNews recently and vehemently denied. Specifically, Rangel is in danger of losing his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee in the House. The committee is responsible for writing tax policy.

While it was Rangel himself who suggested that the House Ethics Committee proceed with its investigation, to some, Rangel's potential ouster looks and smells like an old school political power move.

"I think that many people may not understand the congressman because he's a very complex person," said Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of Partnership for New York City. "Many elected representatives pick one constituency to represent, whether it's their district or a particular industry. The Texas guys represent oil; the Iowa guys represent the farms. Congressman Rangel has, on the one hand, represented international businesses that are the core of the New York economy and, at the same time, he's represented disaffected youth and the poor, working-class people."

Wylde continued, "He's had a very complicated assignment and he's handled it beautifully for 40 years, and I think that, in the process, he probably isn't well understood by many people because it's so tough to represent such a diverse constituency."

Rangel has many achievements, on top of his aforementioned diverse cast of friends and partners. He's managed to obtain funds that were crucial to New York City. He was able to direct stimulus money from President Barack Obama towards the city's public housing. He's understood that defending immigrant rights, while not popular in the so-called "flyover states," is crucial to a city that sees thousands of new immigrants arrive each year in the city with dreams of prosperity. As a champion of the rights of the city's underprivileged, Rangel has managed to toe all lines effectively and gracefully--something that Brooklyn Councilwoman Letitia James feels make Rangel one of the most significant and influential politicians in recent memory.

"He's a historical icon and I, among many others, stand on his shoulders," said James. "There seems to be this right-wing attempt to go after senior leaders, and Charlie Rangel commands so much respect not only in New York, but across the nation."