Ran­gel laments partisanship: ‘It’s time to get out’

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY S.A. MILLER

As he packed up his of­fices on Capi­tol Hill one fi­nal time, Rep. Charles B. Ran­gel re­flected on the di­vi­sions in Washington and the po­lit­i­cal strife cleav­ing the Amer­i­can elec­torate.

The way the sil­ver-haired Har­lem Demo­crat sees it, he couldn’t have picked a bet­ter time to re­tire.

“I did not ever think about leav­ing. I have mixed feel­ings,” he told The Washington Times on a re­cent sunny af­ter­noon on Capi­tol Hill. “But the way the po­lit­i­cal races have turned out, I can’t wait to get out of here.”

For 46 years Mr. Ran­gel has rep­re­sented the same Har­lem district where he grew up. He scaled the heights of con­gres­sional

power, chaired the tax-writ­ing House Com­mit­tee on Ways and Means, plum­meted in an ethics scan­dal that cost him the chair­man­ship and sub­jected him to the hu­mil­i­a­tion of cen­sure on the House floor, and bounced back to win re-elec­tion to two more terms in the House.

The con­gress­man, renowned for his ge­nial dis­po­si­tion, didn’t try to hide his dis­gust with Don­ald Trump’s up­set win of the White House, with the Repub­li­cans’ suc­cess in keep­ing con­trol of both cham­bers of Congress or with the fel­low Demo­crat — a bit­ter po­lit­i­cal ri­val — who is suc­ceed­ing him in rep­re­sent­ing New York’s 13th Con­gres­sional District.

“I think the elec­tions have made it less painful for me to leave. One of the things that I’ve al­ways said: ‘If you don’t en­joy each and ev­ery day as a public ser­vant and a mem­ber of this great Congress, it’s time to get out,’” he said.

Mr. Ran­gel, 86, lamented the fierce partisanship that has come to dom­i­nate the na­tion’s pol­i­tics and poi­son re­la­tion­ships on Capi­tol Hill.

“As my wife and I look at pho­to­graphs that were taken over the last 40 or 50 years, it’s hard some­times to think who were Democrats and who were Repub­li­cans. Re­la­tion­ships were so much closer, and that doesn’t ex­ist to­day by a long shot,” he said.

Those mis­giv­ings bled into the lin­ger­ing re­sent­ment over his House Com­mit­tee on Ethics con­vic­tion in De­cem­ber 2010 on 11 counts of mis­con­duct, in­clud­ing use of a rent-con­trolled res­i­den­tial apart­ment in Har­lem as a cam­paign of­fice, fail­ure to pay taxes on rental in­come from his beach villa in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic and us­ing of­fi­cial House let­ter­head to so­licit do­na­tions for the Charles B. Ran­gel Cen­ter for Public Ser­vice at The City Col­lege of New York.

“I’m con­vinced that I was tar­geted” by Repub­li­cans in the run-up to the 2010 midterm elec­tions, said Mr. Ran­gel. “How­ever, I’m a politi­cian, and I un­der­stand it.”

Still, Mr. Ran­gel in­sisted that he had put that episode be­hind him and was sat­is­fied with the legacy he is leav­ing be­hind af­ter 22 terms as a con­gress­man.

“When I had my por­trait hung in the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee, Repub­li­can lead­er­ship and Demo­cratic lead­er­ship said what a great coura­geous leg­is­la­tor I was,” he said. “I’m leav­ing at the height of my ca­reer in terms of the re­spect as the leg­is­la­tor who has had more bills signed by the pres­i­dent than any­body in Congress.”

“I can­not find it in my heart to com­plain about any­thing,” he said.

From Korea to Capi­tol Hill

Mr. Ran­gel, cur­rently the sec­ond-long­est-serv­ing mem­ber of Congress, can trace his life­time of public ser­vice back to his stint in the U.S. Army in the Korean War, where he earned a Pur­ple Heart and Bronze Star when he led a group of sol­diers out from be­hind enemy lines de­spite be­ing se­verely wounded.

He came home to Har­lem to earn a law de­gree, be­come a lawyer, as­sis­tant U.S. at­tor­ney, New York as­sem­bly­man and then con­gress­man.

His con­gres­sional district, like most con­gres­sional dis­tricts across the coun­try, has ex­pe­ri­enced de­mo­graphic shifts over time. But Mr. Ran­gel said that those changes didn’t jus­tify the iden­tity pol­i­tics that were in­jected into con­gres­sional cam­paigns in his district, which is an­chored around Har­lem but also in­cludes the more Latino neigh­bor­hoods of Span­ish Har­lem and Washington Heights.

In the past two elec­tions, Mr. Ran­gel en­gaged in fierce pri­mary con­tests against fel­low Demo­crat Adri­ano Espillat, who is suc­ceed­ing him and will be the first Do­mini­can-Amer­i­can in Congress, re­flect­ing that the long­time ma­jor­ity-black district has be­come ma­jor­ity His­panic.

The 2014 pri­mary race be­tween Mr. Ran­gel and Mr. Espillat de­gen­er­ated into an ex­change of ac­cu­sa­tions of race-bait­ing. Mr. Ran­gel hasn’t for­got­ten.

“I’ve never had a po­lit­i­cal fight or a party fight or a city coun­cil or state leg­is­la­ture [cam­paign] based on race or color or where you were born or what lan­guage you speak, and I just hope my suc­ces­sor, [who] brags about be­ing the first un­doc­u­mented worker and the first Do­mini­can [in Congress], fully ap­pre­ci­ates that he rep­re­sents 700,000 peo­ple that come from all over the world,” said Mr. Ran­gel.

Mr. Ran­gel de­feated Mr. Espillat in pri­maries in 2012 and 2014, but his ri­val won a close pri­mary vote this year over As­sem­bly­man Keith Wright, whom Mr. Ran­gel strongly en­dorsed to suc­ceed him.

In the in­ter­view with The Times, Mr. Ran­gel looked back at his ca­reer in Congress with a sense of sat­is­fac­tion, re­call­ing his role in the 1990s cre­at­ing the Em­pow­er­ment Zone Act that helped spur eco­nomic re­vival in Har­lem and other in­ner cities.

“Quite frankly, it’s been such a ter­rific jour­ney, and I’ve en­joyed each and ev­ery day, and just think­ing about re­tire­ment has brought new and ex­cit­ing ideas — rais­ing money for the kids, tak­ing my wife and fam­ily places we al­ways wanted to go or go back to. So it could not be a more re­ward­ing jour­ney that I’m tak­ing,” he said.

He spoke with emo­tion of his name­sake Charles B. Ran­gel In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs Fel­low­ship Pro­gram, which funds post­grad­u­ate ed­u­ca­tion for stu­dents, par­tic­u­larly mi­nori­ties, seek­ing to en­ter the U.S. For­eign Ser­vice.

“I’ve seen these kids around the world just so ex­cited as they rep­re­sent not just the State Depart­ment but the United States of Amer­ica,” he said. “That wasn’t al­ways the case, and we’ve still got a long way to go. But it is so im­por­tant that for­eign­ers, when they go to the U.S. Em­bassy, that they see a piece of Amer­ica, and I’m see­ing it ev­ery day with the hun­dreds of kids that are en­rolling in the pro­gram and do­ing their stud­ies, grad­u­at­ing and be­ing as­signed all over this world.”

Mr. Ran­gel said that he still views his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer and his life as a bless­ing, re­count­ing, as he of­ten does, how he be­came a war hero.

“What­ever low points I’ve had, it’s been more than com­pen­sated for me be­ing able to count my bless­ings,” he said. “I can al­ways say that I was shot and al­most cap­tured by the Chi­nese on Nov. 30, 1950. The tem­per­a­ture was 20 be­low zero, and I had given up and thought I was dead or soon would be — and I sur­vived. And I haven’t had a bad day since.”

“It’s not a corny ex­pres­sion,” he said, “be­cause when any­thing looks like it’s go­ing to be a cou­ple shades be­low mak­ing me happy, I can re­mind my­self how lucky I am.”


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