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The Rangel 'Wannabees'

What's curious about the following article is that this Congressional district has a Latino majority. Are there no viable Latino candidates, other than Adam?

From City Hall News

August 2, 2006

Successors circling quietly

By Carla Zanoni

Congressman Charles Rangel (center) posing with a trumpet player

In politics, hope springs eternal. In the case of the potential suitors for Charles Rangel's (D-Manhattan) House seat, hope remains hush-hush. Like clockwork, a discussion about the impending retirement of the city's senior congressman materializes each election cycle, and likely candidates quietly and delicately court the seat in what seems to be the best measure of Rangel's continued local clout.

Among those routinely mentioned: former Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, former City Council Member and current candidate for State Senate Bill Perkins, City Council Member Inez Dickens, and State Assembly Member Adam Clayton Powell IV.

Other possibilities: State Sen. David Paterson, whose candidacy for lieutenant governor now seems to have pointed him elsewhere, and Assembly Member Keith Wright, whose 2005 Manhattan borough president run was considered at least as strong an indication of his close relationship with the congressman as the congressional tie clip gift from Rangel he often sports. Wright has been written off by many as a non-contender. Council Member Melissa Mark Viverito, who was backed by Rangel in her Council run last year, and Deputy Manhattan Borough President Rosemonde Pierre-Louis, are also people some believe are ones to watch. The district is so heavily Democratic that only Democrats are considered seriously.

This may soon be more than political parlor game speculation: late last year, Rangel publicly stated that he would consider stepping down if Democrats do not meet scattered expectations to retake the House for the first time since 1994.

Jim Capel, Rangel's longest serving aide and current chief of staff, said that this remains possible.

The congressman has long been eyeing the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee, where he is currently the ranking member. He has been in line for the position for several election cycles pending a Democratic majority in the House, and, as his wait has continued, his frustration with the Republican-led House has built.

"He's 76 at this point, and has been there for 36 years," Capel said. "He would love the opportunity, but if he doesn't do it this time, he would consider moving on." Elinor Tatum, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Amsterdam News, has covered Rangel's district for years. She said that she cannot see Rangel stepping down anytime soon.

"We're in the middle of a war that makes no sense and a president that makes less sense than the war does,? said Tatum, who believes this will help Democrats take back the House in the fall. "I believe that Rangel knows that and sees it. He wouldn't step down now."

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer agreed. He said that the congressman's boundless energy outpaces most other elected officials, let alone potential successors. "I think he's going to outlive them all. That's the cruel joke," he said of the possible contenders.

Kevin Wardally, former City Council deputy chief of staff and director of political and government operations at Bill Lynch and Associates, said that if he does not, one player stands out as the lead contender to succed him.

"Based on the last election's numbers, Bill Perkins would be the front runner," he said, referring to the former Council member's showing within the district during his failed 2005 bid for the Democratic nomination in the Manhattan borough president's race.

Wardally did, however, note that it is difficult to gauge future success on the results of a city election year.

For the time being, Perkins insists he is focused on his race to succeed Paterson in the State Senate.

Notably, some saw that race as a possible precursor to a Rangel succession battle. Fields had been set to face Perkins in the Democratic primary, but withdrew just before ballot petitioning began.

Adaku Wardally (who is married to Kevin Wardally), former press aide for Dickens, said that she could not imagine Rangel stepping down.

"The day he retires," she said, "the sun won't come up."

Wardally said she did not see viable candidates other than Perkins. She rejected the idea that Dickens would like to run, and dismissed Fields or Powell as serious candidates, claiming Fields' withdrawal from the State Senate race signaled a disinterest in national politics. She said Powell's political influence remains too based on his father's political record to win a congressional seat.

This is not Powell's view, according to his chief of staff, Evette Zayas.

"A lot of people would be interested--Adam has expressed interest in the past," she said.

Powell got over a third of the vote in a 1994 primary against Rangel, and had formed an exploratory committee for another run in 2004. Rangel himself came to power after deposing Powell's father in a 1970 Democratic primary.

One important factor that may divide the pack: age, and its impact on acquiring crucial seniority in Congress.

"Anyone that goes in will be a freshman, no matter how old," said Capel, the Rangel staffer. "The question is: Will they have time to accumulate seniority to get some clout?"

Capel mentioned Fields as an example, saying that though she has enough name recognition to win the seat, her age, 60, may keep her from accumulating enough seniority. Rangel was 41 when he first arrived in Congress in 1971. Dickens is close to 50, Powell, 44, and Perkins recently turned 57. Paterson is 52, Wright is 51, Pierre-Louis is 42 and Viverito is 36.

But despite all the whispers and rumors, those involved in the succession race avoid the topic, at least on the record, like a third rail. After all, Rangel is likely to be a power player in or out of office, as the extended post-electoral careers of Percy Sutton and Basil Paterson have demonstrated.

Fields, who, beside Perkins, tops the list of the most mentioned potential contenders for the seat, avoided all talk of a possible race.

"These kinds of comments have been rumored for years," she said. "There is no word of his plans, no sense that he is going anywhere. I wouldn't even think about doing anything until he said that he was stepping down."