Rep. Charles Rangel's fall from grace was sealed yesterday when the 20-term New York Democrat was convicted on 11 counts of violating House ethics rules. That's quite a tumble for the man who, not long ago, held the lofty post of Ways and Means Committee chairman. And it's a cautionary tale for other members of Congress.

The public doesn't like it when those in elected office act as if rules are made for others and don't apply to them. With its approval rating scraping bottom, Congress should be even more vigilant in calling to account any members suspected of offending in that way.

A House ethics panel found Rangel guilty yesterday of financial and fund-raising misconduct. The panel's top lawyer said there was no evidence that Rangel did anything illegal. But he improperly solicited money for a center named after him at City College of New York, failed to disclose assets and income, and used rent-stabilized apartments in his Harlem district as a campaign office.

And he failed to report rental income from an apartment in the Dominican Republic to the IRS - a particularly telling arrogance of power for the chairman of the committee where the nation's tax laws originate.

Rangel, 80, handily won re-election this month. But his calculated plea Monday for the panel to delay his public trial because he lacked legal representation was appropriately rebuffed after a two-year investigation during which he had lawyers. Now he faces sanctions from expulsion, which is unlikely, to censure or reprimand.

It's a low pass for a lion in winter. hN


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