Something Happening in Rangel's District?

Even with as impressive a Republican nominee as former New York Jets football player Michel Faulkner and all the ethical clouds looming over embattled Rep. Charles Rangel (D.-N.Y.), the chances of Rangel somehow losing to re-election in the 15th District lie closer to “none” than “slim.”

And that is why, incredible as it may seem, there have been recent developments and publicity pointing to Faulkner as a contender to keep one’s eye on.

This is the celebrated district held by Rangel for 40 years and, before that, by his legendary predecessor and fellow Democrat Adam Clayton Powell since it was created in 1944. Once known as “the Harlem district,” the 15th now includes the upper West Side of Manhattan, East Harlem, Washington Heights, Inwood, and Marble Hill (Bronx). According to the latest registration figures, there are 323,521 registered Democrats in the district, and only 21, 721 registered Republicans.

Pretty discouraging to read about, you say? But read on.

Forget for a moment those registration figures. Barely 17% of the registered Democrats turned out for the September primary in which Rangel—his chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee gone and facing a full-blown ethics probe later this year—managed 51% of the vote over four opponents (including runner-up and State Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell, IV, son of Rangel’s predecessor).

“And none of the four have endorsed [Rangel] since the primary,” Faulkner told HUMAN EVENTS last week. The Republican nominee, who is a Baptist Pentecostal minister, added that this cold shoulder to Rangel from former Democratic primary foes comes as a “Democrats for Faulkner” group is being started. Among the leaders of the renegades from Rangel is Mary Sanson, a longtime fixture in the “New Era” Democratic club who rallied fellow Democrats to Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the 1990s.

In 15 of the 20 races in which he was the Democratic nominee, Rangel also carried the Republican standard. This time, Republicans have a serious contender in the 53-year-old Faulkner, who has raised more than $127,000—a record for any GOP hopeful in the 15th—and has the endorsements of Newt Gingrich and House GOP Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga). Republican National Chairman Michael Steele will appear in New York at the end of the month to stump on Faulkner’s behalf.

What is most intriguing in the latest developments is the positive response given Faulkner. As he noted, “We have the Republican and Conservative ballot lines and we set out to form a Jobs Now Party and get it on the ballot. Hundreds of people came out and eagerly signed petitions and that made us the first congressional candidate in this district to be on three ballot lines.”

When James Meredith said he was considering running as a Republican for the seat when it was held by the elder Powell in the 1960s during his own ethical controversy, the civil rights figure was met with threats and local anger that convinced him not to run after all. But when Republican Faulkner today denounces Rangel as “a poster child for all that is bad in the cesspool of Washington” and “worse than a deadbeat Dad for abandoning his children,” audiences respond positively, he said.

His vision, he told us, “is to liberate my people from a one-party dictatorship.”

Faulkner’s message is conservative. He is pro-life and pro-marriage (“proudly”) and wants to use his influence as a congressman to convince private entrepreneurs to come to the district “and invest private-sector dollars. That is something my opponent never did.”

And increasingly, the press is paying attention. The GOP hopeful will soon appear on the nationally syndicated programs hosted by Sean Hannity and Mike Huckabee.

All things considered, a “Rep. Michel Faulker (R.-N.Y.)” still seems a fantasy to be chronicled in a yet-to-be written political novel. But in the last few weeks, there is clearly a sense in the 15th that something different is in the air. And very obviously, some things taken for granted in the politics of the 15th are changing.