Buoyed by a huge turnout at a fundraising gala marking his 80th birthday, Rep. Charles Rangel said yesterday he was eager to turn his attention to his re-election campaign and let the ethics charges against him play out in Washington.

The once-unquestioned dean of the congressional delegation said he'd rather focus on campaigning across his storied district in Manhattan's Harlem neighborhood. "There's no question in my mind there are people who can more than adequately represent this great and diversified district. The problem is, none of them is running in this race," Rangel said.

Rangel faces a number of challengers, including state Assemb. Adam Clayton Powell IV, in the Sept. 14 primary election. Rangel defeated Powell's father, Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., in 1970. He is seeking his 20th term.

A House ethics panel has accused Rangel, the former House Ways and Means Committee chairman, of using official stationery to raise money for a college center bearing his name; delaying tax payments on rental income in the Dominican Republic; failing to file his financial disclosure statements on time; and operating four rent-stabilized apartments in New York, including one used as a campaign office.

Rangel has vowed to fight the charges and is refusing to resign. He's expected to face a public trial in the House this fall - a prospect that has spooked national Democrats already bracing for steep losses in November.

Rangel insisted his problems wouldn't affect the outcome of other races, adding that he was sure his Democratic colleagues were serving their constituents well and that most were safely on their way to re-election.

He said he didn't expect much campaign help from Washington, since a Democrat will be elected to represent his district even if he lost in the primary.

Rangel spoke against what he called negative and false news coverage that he said had driven the ethics complaints. Many of the Democratic lawmakers who attended his fundraiser, including Gov. David A. Paterson, Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and gubernatorial nominee Andrew Cuomo, did so because of hazards of being mischaracterized in the media, he said.

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