Democratic Representative Charles Bernard Rangel, first elected to Congress in 1970, is the first African American to hold the very powerful position as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. He supervises all tax revenue and has authority over welfare, Social Security, Medicare, economic policy and trade. He is also a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and responsible for 90 percent of the affordable housing units built in the United States in the last ten years through his Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program. Rangel is also largely responsible for providing thousands of jobs for underprivileged teens, veterans and ex-offenders.
In spite of all of Rangel’s good works and contribution to the country, lately his presence in the media has been less than favorable. For the last two years, he has been under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for financial improprieties.
The three major allegations tainting Rangel’s reputation are that he: improperly obtained four rent-controlled apartments in New York City, improperly used his office to raise money for the Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York, and failed to disclose rental income from an apartment in the Dominican Republic.
There have also been reports that Rangel neglected to report more than $660,000 in assets including a credit union checking account worth approximately $500,000, stock in PepsiCo, and a few vacant lots in southern New Jersey.
In addition, more pressure was placed on Rangel last week after he accepted a corporately funded trip to the Caribbean, which is in violation of the House Rules on accepting gifts.
In the midst of all the allegations and investigations, Rangel had been urged to step down from his seat as chairman until everything is settled, but he refused. His spokesman urged that if he were to step down, it would make it look as if he had actually done something wrong and possible persuade the decision of the Ethics Committee.
With the new allegations, and in the wake of election time, Charles Rangel still has not admitted to any wrongdoing, but has decided to, at least temporarily, step down until the pending investigations are over.
“In the view of the fact that my chairmanship is bringing so much attention to the press, and in order to avoid my colleagues having to defend me during their elections, I have this morning sent a letter to Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi asking her to grant me a leave of absence until such time as the ethics committee completes its work,” Rangel told reporters at a press conference.
In Rangel’s absence, Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) will most likely fill in as chairman of the House of Ways and Means Committee. He is next in line in terms of seniority.