It is still a few months until the real political season arrives, but there’s already plenty of heat in Harlem as aspirants jockey for position while the incumbents rush to fortify their base.
Among the more significant rumors is that at least three candidates have floated intentions to take on Rep. Charles Rangel, a congressional seat he has held for 40 years.
During a press conference on Monday, Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV announced his candidacy to unseat Rangel. “The fact that he is no longer chairman is significant,” Powell told the press. “If he were still chairman, I might not be running.”
Powell is basing his decision to run on Rangel’s temporary resignation from chairing the House Ways and Means Committee, a rationale he couldn’t use in 1994 when he was trounced in his bid to get a seat his father held from 1944 to 1970.
He tossed aside any notion that he was running to avenge his father’s defeat. “I’ve gotten that out of my system,” he said, apparently referring to his setback in 1994.
There are a number of differences between the current bid and the previous one, Powell explained during a recent interview. “I was very young, with only a little experience as a councilman back then,” he said, “but a lot of things have changed. Plus, I didn’t have a lot of money.”
The assemblyman admitted that Rangel remains a very formidable opponent, but he is no longer the chairman “and it’s time to turn the page,” he said.
As for the allegations and accusations that have been thrown at him, Powell countered, “That’s all they are, accusations and allegations,” he began. “I have never been convicted of any crime other than for protesting the bombing of Vieques, Puerto Rico.”
Powell is probably also banking on the fact that Rangel is under investigation by the House ethics committee and that the legal expenses will cut decisively into the incumbent’s coffers, which several months ago was reportedly at least a half million dollars. The challenger said he hopes to raise more than $350,000 and that he has reached out to the other undeclared contenders.
Fellow Assemblyman Keith Wright took umbrage that Powell invoked his name as he prepares to run against Rangel. “I have no idea why he chose to bring me into this,” Wright told the Amsterdam News on Wednesday. “He’s got to run on his own merits.”
Asked if he were interested in challenging Rangel, Wright said, “Only when he’s no longer our congressman,” he said. “But anyone who wouldn’t want to have the position is either brain-dead or lying.”
State Sen. Bill Perkins has also been mentioned as a possible candidate to take on Rangel, a man with whom he has had close ties.
“You’ll be among the first to know, if and when I announce,” Perkins promised.
Nor was the senator willing to expound on the recent hubbub about his being ousted by certain politicos. “Look, this is a very serious matter, and it would be easy just to take a cheap shot response,” he said. “But let’s put that on hold until I can sit down with you for a full discussion.”
Perkins said he feels good about how his reelection effort is shaping up, with a fundraiser planned this coming Sunday at a local restaurant.
During another recent fundraiser by Rep. Rangel, Perkins was conspicuous by his absence. “I was busy in Albany and couldn’t make it,” he said. That gridlock in Albany, he added, continues as the legislative body and the governor are “about $2 billion apart.”
Perkins began taking heat from his colleagues when he was the first among local Democrats to get behind Barack Obama. “The Obama administration is supportive,” he said, when asked about his relationship with the White House. “That’s not to say we agree on everything, but I am in touch and they have been encouraging.”