“Hello, fellow New Yorkers,” said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer as he greeted the crowd assembled in the Longworth D.C., last week for the unveiling of the portrait of Rep. Charles Rangel. “I was born in Congressman Rangel’s district.”
That piece of personal history from Hoyer, who was among a host of notables at the event, was well-received by a number of Harlemites in the room and set the tone for a succession of speakers, including House Speaker John Boehner.
A chuckle went across the room when Boehner said, “I want to congratulate Charlie. We’ve been friends since the first day I was here. While Charlie and I don’t always see eye to eye, we have a lot in common.”
Far more in common with Rangel were the remaining speakers, and none more warmly regarded than House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “This painting is not about today, but so that generations of children with similar obstacles Rangel had can see this man who opened so many doors for them,” she said.
There was generous and expected praise of Rangel from Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand; Emanuel Cleaver, chair of the CBC, who had his hands full with the annual gathering of his colleagues; and Rep. Dave Camp, chair of the Ways and Means Committee, where Rangel once presided.
Camp said Rangel was a “great pragmatist…acting with kindness and respect” for everyone.
And after his wife, Alma, unveiled the painting, a marvelous portrait of Rangel by artist Simmie Knox, it was time for the man of the moment to thank just about everybody in the vast room.
As usual, Rangel found a way to be self-deprecatingly funny, opening his remarks by saying, “I’m deeply moved, but this is no substitute for the funeral.”
“Despite the prevailing challenges of poverty, racism and social challenges, no country does better for its people than the United States,” Rangel continued. “It is up to us in Congress to understand that this isn’t about due process but compassion for our brothers and sisters. We have to pause from our elections to get this country back to work.”
Those final words were greeted with resounding applause from Rangel’s relatives and folks such as the Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts, who delivered the invocation, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, Assemblyman Keith Wright, Council Members Inez Dickens and Robert Jackson, Queen Mother Delois Blakely, Alphonso Cohen, Leslie Wyche and a multitude of “Rangel’s Angels,” most energetically the three Scott sisters.
It wasn’t mentioned where the portrait would hang, though there is a huge space on a far wall in the Ways and Means chamber, and it would certainly add luster and color to a room adorned with portraits of white men.