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For Want of a Legacy… « The Washington Independent

It’s been a difficult week for Rep. Charlie Rangel. First came the news last Friday that the 19-term Harlem Democrat has been paying about half the going rate for four rent-stabilized apartments in upper Manhattan. (One of those Rangel has used as an office, though city laws dictate that rent-stabilization applies only to primary residences.) And now today, The Washington Post has a front-page piece revealing that the Ways and Means Committee chairman has sought donations for a $30 million pet project — named after himself — from several large corporations with business pending before his committee. From the Post:

The New York Democrat has penned letters on congressional stationery and has sought meetings to ask for corporate and foundation contributions for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York, a project that caused controversy last year when he won a $1.9 million congressional earmark to help start it. Republican critics dubbed the project Rangel’s "Monument to Me."

One company, the insurance giant AIG, has been lobbying heavily to preserve a huge tax break that expires this year, according to the Post. (Any legislation renewing the break would have to originate in Ways and Means).

Another donor, Nabors Industries, a Bermuda-based oil and gas drilling contractor, has lobbied against proposals to crack down on U.S.-based companies that incorporate or reorganize offshore to reduce their U.S. tax liability. Nabors chief executive Eugene M. Isenberg, in his first donation to the college, said that he pledged $500,000 and that the company matched it after meeting in 2006 with CCNY officials and Rangel.

"I don’t need any special favors that I’m aware of," Isenberg said in a telephone interview.

Not that Rangel has ever had qualms about going after industry even when it’s close to home. Late last year, for example, he proposed a controversial tax hike on the "carried interest" income that’s been such a boon to hedge funds and other private equity managers in his own New York City. Still, he must be aware that such solicitations create perceptions of conflict of interest — perceptions not alleviated by the nakedness of the 78-year-old Rangel’s desire to solidify a legacy.

From the center’s earliest stages, Rangel has used his influence to help. In 2005, he wrote an appeal on congressional stationery to about 100 foundations, saying the project "will allow me to locate the inspirational aspects of my legacy in my home Harlem community."

Not that any of this comes as much of a surprise. There aren’t three people on Capitol Hill who wouldn’t want their face etched on Mt. Rushmore. Still, Rangel should remember that it wasn’t Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt or Lincoln to do the carving.

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