Monday, August 30, 2010

Charles Rangel vs. Adam Clayton Powell IV: Mediocrity in New York's 15th District

On Sunday the New York Times profiled the main challenger to Representative Charles Rangel's re-election bid, Adam Clayton Powell IV. While the profile painted Powell in a less-than-stellar light, the real victim of the piece is the people of 15th Congressional District - Rangel's current constituency that runs from Columbia University in the south to the upper portions of Manhattan in the north and from the Hudson on the West to a small portion of Queens in the east - who will have to choose between two mediocre candidates to represent them in Congress for the next two years.

Powell is the son of the revered former Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. from the same district who was defeated by Rangel back in 1970, following the elder Powell's numerous missteps as Congressman. What the Times article glosses over is the glaring similarities between Rangel's alleged misconduct and Powell, Jr.'s misconduct. Powell IV tries to explain the difference between his father's actions and Rangel's alleged actions:
My dad fought the system his whole career. Charles Rangel became part of the system. He embraces the political trade and the political games, and he rejoices in the backslapping and connections.
In reality, Rangel and Powell, Jr. seem to be two peas of the same pod when it comes to congressional misconduct. Rangel is currently accused of numerous ethics and tax violations, the most serious of which include not paying income tax on a Caribbean villa and not disclosing corporate funding of a trip he took to the Caribbean. Similarly, Powell, Jr. was indicted for federal income tax evasion in 1958 (the trial ended with a hung jury), and taking trips abroad with public money. Powell, Jr.'s final undoing seems to have come in the form of his increasing absenteeism on Capitol Hill, combined with the revelation of a no-show job that Powell, Jr.'s third wife, Yvette Diago (who is also Powell IV's mother) had on Powell, Jr.'s Congressional payroll.

While Powell IV may be hoping that the people of Harlem and the rest of the 15th District will remember his father as the civil rights activist who pushed significant legislation through Congress for minorities in this country and not the scandal-ridden politician defeated by Rangel in 1970, he has his own mishaps with which he must deal. In 2004 Powell IV found himself at the center of sexual controversy when a 19 year old intern claimed that she and Powell had sex in an Albany Howard Johnson's motel (Powell admitted that the relationship was "inappropriate"). Later that year Powell IV was accused of raping a 38 year old woman in her boyfriend's Trump Tower apartment in Columbus Circle (investigators later determined that the sex was consensual). More recently, in 2008, Powell IV was convicted of driving while impaired, stemming from a DWI arrest on the Henry Hudson Parkway.

If Powell IV's personal conduct is nothing to write home about, his legislative history is equally dismal. According to the Times, Powell IV has not introduced a single bill into the Assembly for the last five years. When presented with this information by the Times, Powell IV claims that he introduced and passed a bill this term, he just cannot remember when. I called Mr. Powell's office in Albany and was told by his executive assistant that, in her opinion, bills cost a lot of money to introduce and, "a lot of members, in my opinion, just introduce bills nilly-willy. When he sees a bill that he believes in he backs it the whole nine yards. But as far as, in my opinion, him just throwing anything out there, no, no he doesn't." When I called Powell's media department to ask about which bill he was citing in the New York Times article that he passed in the past two years, I was told they would get back to me with an answer. If I get that answer I will include it in an update.

Given these two front runners as their choices, don't the constituents of the 15th District deserve better? Is Charles Rangel vs. Adam Clayton Powell IV really the best that the Democratic Party could come up with in such a crucial midterm election? The incumbent is running on his incumbency, one plagued with scandal, and the challenger is running on the good portions of his father's legacy. I suppose that the real question for 15th District residents boils down to this: do you want someone who has a lot of power in Congress but is politically corrupt, or do you want a lackluster legislator who will wield little, if any, power in the Capitol?

Photo - Rangel (l.) and Powell IV (Photoshop)

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