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Rangel's weakness was pride, not greed

Among the mysteries of the Charlie Rangel affair is one that is sure to confound corrupt politicians everywhere: He took almost nothing for himself. His weakness, it turns out, was not greed, it was pride.

Mostly, this was little stuff. He used more than his proper allotment of rental apartments in Harlem. He lied on an application and said his son would be a tenant. But these were rentals, for crying out loud, not gifts of real property, and he paid rent, just not at the going rate. But still, he got the gift of a discount from a landlord, and landlords in New York can always use a political favor. Rangel knew that.

Rangel is accused of not paying taxes on rental property he owns in the Dominican Republic. This is not something to excuse, but his property was not a hotel or a yacht basin, but one of those time-sharey things you see in vacation commercials where all the food comes flambéed -- a misdemeanor, if that.

The more serious charge -- the most serious charge -- is that Rangel solicited funds from major corporations with business before Congress by using his congressional stationary. But the letters -- sent to Goldman Sachs, Verizon, AT&T, the Ford Foundation and others -- were efforts to fund the Charles B. Rangel Center For Public Service at City College, the storied municipal institution located in Rangel’s district and in the memoirs of an entire generation of New York intellectuals. Rangel would have been in good company.

One of those allegedly solicited was Eugene Isenberg, the chief executive of Nabors Industries, an oil firm seeking a tax break from Rangel’s Ways and Means Committee. Rangel had initially opposed the tax break, Eisenberg ponied up $100,000, and the committee, in its wisdom, gave him what he wanted. But Nabors’s check was made out to City College, and it was for the Rangel Center. Not a penny went into Rangel’s pocket.

To an extent, Rangel apparently suffered from a communicable disease you can get by serving in Congress -- entitlement creep. This happens when the words “why not me?” keep popping into your head. If your average CEO can use his staff to buy flowers for his wife and a more expensive arrangement for his mistress, then “why not me?” So Rangel had his congressional staff prepare the fundraising letters and mailed them on his congressional frank.

I do not make light of what Rangel did. Instead, if I may misuse the word, I make sad. Real crooks -- in or out of office -- would laugh at what brought him low. Where are the paper bags full of cash? Where are the numbered bank accounts in Swiss banks? Where are the fast boats, fast cars, fast girls? Nothing like that. His mistress is called Legacy. He wanted the Rangel Center. He wanted a brass nameplate and archives and a proper computer system for all his papers. He wanted respect. He actually deserved it.

I have always liked Charlie Rangel. He’s smart, and he’s funny, which is a zoning violation of sorts in Washington. He’s had an incomparable life and done some very good things, but he broke the rules and abused his office and let his pride get the better of him. Truth is, though, whatever he’s been accused of, he’s really guilty of one thing: vanity.


By Richard Cohen  | July 30, 2010; 10:11 AM ET
Categories:  Cohen  | Tags:  Richard Cohen  
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Next: On immigration, Lindsey Graham abandons principle


Mm ba ba de
Um bum ba de
Um bu bu bum da de
Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you no man ask for
Under pressure - that burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets
Um ba ba be

Ha Ha you can make so much music with this story, but this is old news and classic politics. I mean seriously, the man is getting old and his don't-get-caught spidey senses are now dulling, he slipped. They all e-v e n t u ally get caught or caught up and then get caught, its collateral damage, but you know how old this story is check this article out I came across awhile ago its pretty good

Posted by: republicanblack | July 30, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

So what we are to believe is that the esteemed representative did not profit from this?

Tax fraud is tax fraud, regardless of the amount. This was the Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee! By not paying the tax he owed, he did indeed profit.

"But these were rentals, for crying out loud, not gifts of real property, and he paid rent, just not at the going rate"
In other words, he used his influence to pay substantially less then any other citizen. Sound like he profited there as well.

How about we look at what he paid in rent and compare that to what those apartments could generate in rent in the open market?

By the way, what exactly is his "proper allotment" of apartments? I have only ever needed one, and I paid rent with zero discounts.

Mr Cohen also neglects to mention the 2 bank accounts Mr. Rangel failed to report totalling nearly $1,000,000.

Sorry, but I cannot excuse this behavior and neither should anybody else.

Posted by: kenskorupski | July 30, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

mr cohen, you are wrong on your opinion. what this person did was wrong and you cannot defend it. oh you can I guess, but you are wrong. you try and do this as a private citizen and see if someone says okay you get a pass because you are good hearted and did not mean to do this for 20 to 40 years. giving him the benefit of the doubt that his first 10 years were okay becasue he had not had time to learn how to scam the system yet

Posted by: robertbeaver | July 30, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Wrong on both counts Mr. Cohen. Mr Rangel's weakness is arrogance and a feeling of entitlement.

Posted by: Hairless | July 30, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

A taxpayer, who might steal a 2 dollar item at a local store might have the following happen to them: loss of their job, be jailed, have criminal record. Yet stealing via tax fraud, rent stabilized apartments and millions in bank accounts by a D.C. greed head is okay? Cohen you have rubbed shoulders and enjoyed too many free meals with these crooks to be anything but a court jester reporting from the slime palace wherein these creeps dwell.

Posted by: joedogsoldier46yahoocom | July 30, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand it. Why is it that liberals defend unscrupulous conduct when liberals are at fault, and then make a federal case out of it when conservatives are guilty of the same crimes. CRIMES, Mr. Cohen.

Are there different sets of laws that apply in America and depend on your political philosophy?

Posted by: wallervrs | July 30, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

this was not some bookeeper.... he was the most knowledgable tax authority on the planet...and expects us to pay taxes correctly on any rental income we were lucky enough to have... and LYING about a rent controlled apt is THEFT against the landlord and others who were harmed by not getting the rent controlled benefits he took that others no longer had available. When the boss helps a pretty girl with a raise because of her appearance its sexual HARRASMENT toward the other people who didnt get that benefit in the office... the supreme court says so..... so what we have is a arrogant man who doesnt think the rules apply to him... and believes that like many in the political class they are worthy of special treatment. If these allegations are true... he disrespected his office...and the public to which entrusted him with the power....and he should do JAIL time....this is no failure to pay a nanny tax by a supreme court nominee...this is a congressman who knew all the rules!

Posted by: generousmd | July 30, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

While this ridiculous apologia does nothing to exonerate Rangel (D-NY) it certainly disproves the stereotype that says, “People named Cohen are good with numbers.”

If Rangel simply wanted a brass nameplate proper computer system for all his papers why the need to shakedown Big Bad Oil and Big Bad Wall St?

Brass nameplates go for $16.95 at Cost Co. and 2TB hard drives can be had for less than $100.00 nowadays.

Amongst the assets he failed to report were 100’s of thousands of dollars in checking accounts, foreign rental properties, etc.

Even if Rangel never put a “penny in his pocket” by failing to pay taxes on these assets and earnings he effectively kept millions of pennies in his pockets that should have gone to the state and federal treasuries.

Give that Rangel was chairman of Ways & Means – the folks who write the tax laws the rest of us must pay – this, if anything, make it an even more egregious offence.

One wonders if Cohen would be as insouciant if these trivial little lapses had been committed by congressman or woman with an “R” after their name.

Posted by: Bjartur | July 30, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

mr cohen....u just dont get it....
u usually do....I am so disapointed in your rationalizing and minimizing those entrusted with the PUBLICS office.... exactly how much corruption is acceptable in your estimate? What reasons justify misbehavior in your estimate? How do you decide what rules are worth obeying when the congress says they are all legitimate.... your appeasing behavior of the political class is apparently now status quo in DC.... got the reverse discrimination case against the fireman right,,,, unlike many esteemed supreme court justices.... but where is the CONTROVERSY here about misconduct that disrespects himself... the congress...and his office?

Posted by: generousmd | July 30, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

He's guilty of "vanity"?? Are you kidding me? Don't stand up for him and do gyrations to downplay his illegal behavior just because "he's done some very good things" annnnnd your politics happen to align with his.

Anybody else does any of these things and they get major fines or sent to jail. Period. Its utterly inexcusable that a US congressman - then chairman of the tax writing Ways And Means commission, no less - should do any of the things Rangel did.

And it's not a big deal that he concealed his rental property income because its not a super-lux property? What planet are you living on? Are you so partisan that you can't even call a spade a spade when looking at out and out, unabashed corruption?

Posted by: brklyn95 | July 31, 2010 1:32 AM | Report abuse

If Clinton does it … no problem … if Charles Rangel does it … it is not a crime …. If Marion Barry does it … it is nothing … You Dem, lefties, and Libs make me sick.
You rush using tax payer’s money to push around the State of Arizona enforcement of the law and come up with all kinds of silly justifications of the morally bankrupt Dem congress.
I hope the American people realize that these backroom dealers and wheelers are going to bankrupt America morally and economically. Let’s send them out of Washington DC in the next elections!!!

Posted by: uzanabria1 | July 31, 2010 3:10 AM | Report abuse

Cohen's always good for gibberish. This is some of his finest. Time for him to retire too. He can "Aw shucks!" with ole Charlie down in the Dominican. We ain't all stoopid.

Posted by: carinelliM | August 5, 2010 3:33 AM | Report abuse

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