Congressman Charles Rangel is a good and honorable man.
But last week he stood in front of the House of Representatives as his colleagues voted 333-79 to publicly humiliate him in a formal censure.
Censure is an action used only 22 other times in American history to punish such crimes as bribery and supporting the Confederacy. The last time such a drastic action was taken against a sitting member was in 1983 when a couple of congressmen were censured for having sexual relations with House pages.
In the past, many other members have committed crimes. Though they were convicted by the courts, they were not censured by Congress.
Rangel was accused of failure to pay back taxes on a vacation villa and soliciting donations for a center being built in his honor.
When the tragic ritual concluded, Rangel simply said, “I know in my heart that I am not going to be judged by this Congress but I am going to judged by my life.”
Shakespeare wrote, “the evil that men do lives on after, the good is oft interred with their bones.”
Rangel, after dropping out of high school and serving in Korea, used the GI Bill to go to college and law school. He became a renowned prosecutor before entering politics. In 1970, he ran against the legendary Adam Clayton Powell. In 1967, Congress had voted to exclude Powell charging him with corruption. Powell was re-elected in 1968. In 1970, Rangel beat him.
Rangel has represented the people of Harlem for 40 years. He has also been the titular black political leader. He has fought for the disadvantaged and distressed people of our country.
As a ranking member and then chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rangel stood at the mouth of the cave, often alone, facing the dragons threatening to destroy the village. He gallantly fought to save the gains from the civil rights movement, which were under attack; the National Voting Rights Act of 1965, Legal Services, NEA, EEOC, and others.
I worked for him as an intern caseworker in his Washington office in 1975. My job was to try to find relief for constituents in need. But for Rangel, the congressman from Harlem and for a time the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, the country’s entire black community was his constituency. He was always accessible to the people and never hesitated to speak truth to power.
I don’t believe that a life can be represented by what is inscribed on a stone or scribbled on an edict. Life is more like a container of water. Its nature and composition depend on and reflect back all the things, which have been poured into it.
Rangel’s life contains some unpleasant sediment, yes, but it runneth over because it has been filled to the brim with commitment to public service and goodness.
“Good is oft interred with their bones.” Let it not be so with Charlie Rangel.