Rep. Charles Rangle (D-NY), the 22-term congressman censured for massive ethics violations in the House in 2010, faces an uphill battle in the June 26 New York primary to keep his seat.
At 81, Rangel is seeking his 22nd term in the U.S. House of Representatives. But he's suffering from a bad back, which kept him out of Washington for nearly three months this year, and a potentially bad break from a congressional reapportionment that makes his district more Hispanic than African-American. For Rangel, a national African-American icon, that's not good news.
Now the man who did the unthinkable in 1970 by defeating legendary Harlem firebrand Adam Clayton Powell faces perhaps the toughest run of his career since he squared off against Powell.
Rangel's health, the new district boundaries, demographic changes within Harlem and Rangel's 2010 censure by the House for multiple ethics violations have attracted some challengers for New York's June 26 Democratic primary. They pose a serious threat to the former House Ways and Means Committee chairman and fourth most senior member of Congress, political experts say.
Life hasn't been easy for some notable congressional incumbents this year. It's only May, but redistricting and anti-incumbent sentiment nationwide have already claimed six members of Congress - including anti-war liberal Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and center-right Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind. - and have made many other lawmakers extremely uncomfortable as they seek new terms.
"The mood of the country has changed, and you can feel the change in Harlem," said Carlos Vargas-Ramos, a research associate at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at New York's Hunter College. "The question is can Rangel's challengers tap into that anti-incumbent feeling? Rangel has the power of incumbency: immense name recognition and he's popular. On the other hand, the district he's in has been disbanded; because of the ethical problems, he lost the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee; and some people say it's time to make room for some new representation."
In 1970, Rangel defeated one of the most colorful - and crooked - politicians ever to serve in the House; Adam Clayton Powell. For years, he was the only black representative and used that leverage to gain power and goodies for his district.
Rangel went Powell one better in the corruption department - a dizzying maze of tax avoidance, off shore properties, and sweetheart deals on prime office space. He too, became very powerful and influential in the Black Caucus.
But this time, his time may have come. It seems ironic that for a politician to have shamelessly played upon his race for political gain all these years that he should be brought down because he isn't Hispanic.