The House of Representatives has voted to formally censure embattled Rep. Charles Rangel on 11 ethics violations—but back in his Harlem district, residents say they have mixed feelings about the decision.
Rangel’s censure, given by Nancy Pelosi on the floor of the House, lasted only 45 seconds, but some say it will significantly color his long political career, which has included time chairing the powerful Ways and Means Committee as well as representing Harlem for over 40 years.
And to some constituents who remain loyal, Rangel’s public punishment—for violations that range from failures to report income to unauthorized fundraising—was simply too harsh.
“With the total collapse of the financial system, with people losing their pensions, their retirements, their homes, in finding the individuals responsible for that, how did they come up with Charlie Rangel?” Harlem resident Sayeed Saladeen said. “With the robbing, the theft of the people, why is it that all we come up with is Charlie Rangel?”
Censure is a public reprimand of in front of Congress and the most serious punishment short of expulsion. Censured representatives are not removed from office, but are forced to give up any committee chair positions. Rangel’s censure is the first of a House member in 27 years, and amid rising political tensions, some questioned its severity.
“He didn’t take money and put it in his pocket—it was to help other people,” Harlem resident Shakur Afrikanus said, referring to one charge that questioned Rangel’s fundraising for a City College of New York center that would be named after him. “This is a brutal attack from the mass media against black leaders.”
Others, though, said they have lost trust in their representative.
“He just went overbounds, thinking that he’s Charlie Rangel,” said Leova Tompkins, who has lived in Harlem since she was 3. Now almost 65, she has no sympathy for Rangel.
“He hasn’t done something for the blacks in a long time,” she said. “Maybe he didn’t steal millions and millions, but he should have known better.”
Rangel’s other guilty charges include failing to pay taxes on rental income from a Dominican Republic villa over the span of 17 years, as well as leaving out hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets over a decade.
But despite battling ethics charges for over two years, the 80-year-old Congressman was re-elected last month with more than 80 percent of the vote.
“If you look at his whole body of service, there’s a lot more positives than negatives,” said Andrew Siwo, a Harlem resident who received his MPA from the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs. “I think most people agree with me too, just by taking a look at recent elections as a sign. He was very defiant and wouldn’t go down the way they wanted him to go down.”
Resident Gregory Barnwell agreed, and accused the vote—which was 333 to 79 for the censure, with only two Republicans voting against—of being highly partisan.
“I don’t think he was corrupt,” Barnwell said. “But unfortunately, the Republicans are starting to gain power in Congress. It’s going to turn into a witch hunt now, and not only for him.”
Before the formal vote to censure, Rangel spoke to the House to take “full credit” for what he has stated was sloppy accounting, but not corruption.
“I brought it on myself,” Rangel said, according to news reports. “But I still believe that this body has to be guided by fairness.”
Melvin Christian, housing chair of Community Board 10 in Harlem, said that it was time to move past this case altogether.
“I’m going to leave it alone at this point,” he said. “Whatever happened has happened, and we need to move on.”