The House vote on Charlie Rangel could come today now that the ethics panel has released its final report. Rangel is still pushing hard to get his censure resolution knocked down to a milder reprimand. It’s a long shot despite support yesterday from House Dem James Clyburn of South Carolina who says he’ll vote against censure.
Former city Public Advocate Mark Green doesn’t get a vote, but since he’s been calling for tougher congressional ethics ever since his 1979 bestseller — Who Runs Congress — we were curious to hear what he has to say on the matter.
“The volume of documented unethical misconduct is unarguable,” says Green. “Rangel has to be punished. But it seems like what he did is more in line with a reprimand than a censure. When you look at what people have been censured for, it is usually corruption, violence, or sexual misconduct. No one thing that Rangel did is frankly much different than what many members do daily.”
Green says Rangel’s misdeeds are “relatively run of the mill, with two exceptions: To use his congressional stationery to pressure legislatively-interested people crossed a line.” He adds: “The failure of the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee to report earned income was wrong and a public relations disaster. But it probably shouldn’t, as a matter of law, be dealt with by a censure.”
You could brush this off as just one liberal Democrat supporting another. But that theory doesn’t hold up either. Green is hardly a member of the Rangel clique. In fact, he still has a painfully vivid memory of the day after he won the 2001 Democratic mayoral primary. Rangel, the city’s senior Democrat, made it a point to sit down for a very public breakfast that morning with Green’s Republican challenger, Mike Bloomberg. The old Harlem fox then emerged saying nice things about the novice billionaire politician, remarks that didn’t help Green’s campaign a whole lot.
But Green says he’s a longtime admirer of Rangel’s political style. “I don’t think I’ve met a member of Congress who has more sheer power in terms of choice of words, people skills, and legislative prowess.”
One of the things underscoring the difference between Rangel’s situation and what some pols managed to get away with in recent years, says Green, was last week’s conviction of former GOP majority leader Tom DeLay for a money laundering scheme to influence Texas congressional redistricting:
“The GOP leadership routinely let lobbyists write legislation, and then the next day they ask them for money for their campaigns. What’s routine should be criminal.”