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Charles Rangel's guilty verdict threatens reputation, but perhaps not seat

Charles Barron

Charles Barron Credit: AFP

Harlem political legend Charles Rangel was found guilty on 11 of 13 counts of ethical misconduct Tuesday, a verdict that threatens to tarnish the congressman’s legacy but is unlikely to end his career.

A House ethics panel convicted Rangel, 80, of failing to report income taxes on his Dominican Republican resort, using congressional stationery and staff to fundraise for an academic center in his name, and other charges.

“He hurt himself after decades of distinguished service in Congress,” said political ethics lawyer Kenneth A. Gross, “not to the extent where people will remember him for his misdeeds, but it’s certainly a footnote in an illustrious career.”

The case moves next to the full ethics committee, which is expected to convene a sanctions hearing later this week to decide the Democrat’s punishment. Rangel will most likely receive a mid-range penalty such as censure or a reprimand, which must then be ratified by the full House.

The 20-term representative theatrically stalked out of his hearing on Monday, and it continued without him. After the verdict, Rangel released a comparatively dramatic statement, saying he “deplores” the findings.

“How can anyone have confidence in the decision of the Ethics Subcommittee when I was deprived of due process rights, right to counsel and was not even in the room?” he wrote. “I can only hope that the full Committee will treat me more fairly.”

The charges, which weren’t criminal and did not indicate corruption, should be kept in perspective, Gross said. Rangel earlier in the year has forfeited his chairmanship of the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, but there is little chance he’ll resign his congressional seat or be ousted.

“For his sake, one would hope the good things he does outweigh this chapter,” said independent political analyst Jerry Kremer.

Residents of Harlem on Tuesday expressed faith that Rangel’s venerable legislative career will redeem him.

“Despite the allegations, he’s wonderful, and he’s done wonderful things,” said Diane Glover, 51. “I love him very dearly. … When you live that long, that means you’ve done a lot of good deeds. That speaks for itself.”

Mark Parsons, 46, said the lawmaker had not gotten a fair shake at defending himself. “He’s given good community service for 50 years, and now they find something?” Parsons asked. “I think the charges are trumped up.”

Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday suggested to reporters Rangel has jeopardized his reputation. “It’s important that people have full faith in the integrity of public service, so it’s painful to watch,” he said.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan/Brooklyn) said the verdict had taken an emotional toll. “I’ve very saddened to hear the news,” his statement read. “Charlie Rangel has been a great asset … this is an unfortunate mark on his important record of service.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who called Rangel a “friend,” offered the most full-throated support.

“The Congress has got to do what it’s got to do and decide their regulations and enforce them,” Bloomberg said, “but remember Charlie Rangel did a lot for New York City and we shouldn’t forget that.”

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