NEW YORK — “I am not going away,” 40-year veteran Congressman Charles Rangel (D – New York) told his House colleagues on Tuesday. “You’re not going to tell me to resign to make you feel comfortable,” the 80-year-old lawmaker added in an unfocused half-hour jeremiad in which he defend himself against the House Ethics Committee’s 13 charges against him. Its 40-page “Statement of Alleged Violation” concludes that Rangel’s “pattern of indifference or disregard for the laws, rules, and regulations of the United States and the House of Representatives is a serious violation.”
Among many things, Rangel allegedly abused a rent-controlled Harlem residential apartment as his local congressional office and used House stationery and employees to solicit donations for a Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service from companies with business before the Ways and Means Committee, which he once chaired. According to the Ethics Committee, he also failed to declare “his ownership of vacant lots in New Jersey,” and neither disclosed nor paid taxes on rental income from a Dominican condo. All told, the Committee stated, Rangel’s “accumulation of action reflected poorly on the institution of the House and, thereby, brought discredit to the House.”
Michel Faulkner hopes Harlemites have had enough. The 53-year-old ordained Baptist minister and former Virginia Tech All-American footballer seeks to unseat Rangel — as a Republican. And a black one at that.
“I must have shaken 1,000 hands yesterday,” he says over gazpacho Monday at Bill’s Gay ’90s, a former speakeasy on Midtown Manhattan’s West 54th Street. He spent the previous afternoon campaigning on a street corner while a doo-wop band called the Seasoned Blend serenaded voters.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if the poor kicked the liberals out of their lives?” Faulkner smiles. “Imagine if they told them: ‘We don’t want you to be our pimps anymore.’”
Faulkner wants to reverse four decades of Rangel’s big-government activism, massive spending, and high taxes. Faulkner proudly signed Americans for Tax Reform’s “no new taxes” pledge. He also decried the profound unfairness of the Death Tax, which is set to skyrocket from 0 to 55 percent come 2011.
“If the late George Steinbrenner had died next January,” Faulkner says, “his family would have to sell the Yankees just to pay the Death Tax.”
Faulkner sees ObamaCare as a stillbirth that should be sped off to the morgue.
“The debate never was about healthcare,” says Faulkner, whose 6-foot, 3-inch frame boosts his air of authority. “It always was about money. Congress signed a contract on a house that had not been built yet. The bill was a crime against America. It dangled some things in the faces of people who needed health coverage. And then it politicized the whole thing. I hate this law more every day.”
If elected, Faulkner would gather entrepreneurs and ask them for their advice on reinvigorating the economy. “The problem is that bureaucrats are trying to create jobs,” Faulkner says. “They know nothing about creating jobs.”
“Jobs” may be Faulkner’s secret weapon. Specifically, he launched the new Jobs Now Party. Assuming he gets all the ballot-petition signatures he needs, Jobs Now will give voters an additional ballot line on which to support Faulkner without pulling the Republican lever, something to which some Gotham voters are virtually allergic.
“We knew we had to have an independent line,” Faulkner says. “Friends of mine have told me, ‘I love you. I believe in you. But I just cannot vote Republican.’ That Kool-Aid they drank must be very strong.” In addition to whatever votes Faulkner gets on the Republican and Conservative Party lines, those on the Jobs Now line (which has a certain pro-worker ring to it) will add up to his total. And if he gets a majority of ballots, he becomes Harlem’s new pro-market conservative congressman.
That, of course, is far easier said than done. Among 435 Congressional districts, the Cook Political Report ranks New York’s 15th as America’s second most overwhelmingly Democratic. John Kerry won 90 percent of its vote in 2004, while Obama captured 93 percent on November 4, 2008. That night, 89 percent of voters granted Rangel his 20th term.
Faulkner has raised some $75,000 and says he has budgeted $850,000 for his campaign. At the latest filing deadline on June 30, Rangel had collected $2.26 million for this election but only $516,594 remained on hand.
If Rangel survives his Democratic primary against State Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV — whose father Rangel ousted when he won his seat in 1970 — he anticipates a House ethics trial in which he will fight like a cornered porcupine. This entire escapade will unfold in living color, just weeks before Election Day. Top Democrats already are running from Rangel who, after all these years, has the whiff of mothballs about him. Voters may find Faulkner’s honest face an appealing alternative to a dodgy political hack decades past his “sell by” date.
“The silver lining is that when we win,” Faulkner predicts, “we are going to take our status and use that to tell the American people that we the people run the government, and we can start to turn this thing around.”
If that seems likely to happen, and Rangel remains on the ballot, the Democrats and their union pals most likely will clamp pliers on their noses and ride to Rangel’s rescue. Whether Rangel’s alleged ethical shortcomings drive voters to flush the collective toilet will be one of this fall’s most riveting narratives.
For now, Michel Faulkner’s uphill, albeit determined, candidacy recalls the words of the late Robert F. Kennedy: “Some men see things as they are and say ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and say, ‘Why not?’”