The latest Rangel wrangle

    It was an insult to the Independence Day spirit to see knavish Charlie Rangel out on the streets of New York, extolling the democratic system (“the best that mankind or humankind has ever thought of”) and stumping desperately (yet again) to save his own butt.Rangel is the poster child for sleazy incumbency – 19 months ago, the 21-term Democratic congressman was found guilty by his House peers, and subsequently censured, on 13 counts of corruption – and now he’s enmeshed in a sleazy Democratic primary  that he may or may not have won. A primary that was overseen by the New York Board of Elections, an agency that makes the vote-counters in Florida look saintly.On primary night June 26, the initial announcement was that Rangel had trounced his chief Democratic rival, state senator Adriano Espaillat, by 20 percentage points, in his Harlem congressional district. Espaillat duly conceded. But then, as the days wore on, the landslide winning margin began to shrink. And shrink. And shrink.It turned out that the Board of Elections (more specifically, the New York cops, who, at the board’s behest, log the results on a police computer) had initially recorded zero votes – repeat, zero votes – in 79 of the congressional district’s 506 precincts. Many of those precincts were in Dominican neighborhoods that strongly favor Espaillat, a fellow Dominican. How convenient for Rangel.Rangel’s winning margin, at last glance, was down to two percentage points – roughly 802 votes. Today, the board is supposed to start counting 2000 absentee and provisional ballots. Espaillat has naturally withdrawn his primary night concession. He’s already in court, claiming irregularities and threatening to demand a new election.We all give Florida a lot of grief for its electoral hijinks, but the current wrangling over Rangel affords us an opportunity to give New York City equal time. Dan Collins, the New York editor-at-large at The Huffington Post, and a veteran Big Apple political observer (and a friend of mine), wrote the other day:”The city’s election officials have screwed up their vote-counting mission and the democratic process has dwindled off into head-scratching confusion. This is not exactly startling news. If there is one thing you can absolutely be sure about in a New York City election, it’s that there will be screw-ups. It’s lucky this isn’t a swing state. If the fate of the republic depended on New York’s ability to come up with an accurate vote count, we’d have Gore-Bush every time. Compared to us, Dade County, Florida tallies its ballots with the mathematical precision of a fine watch.”Or, as Mayor Bloomberg said the other day, “It’s about as corruptible a system as anybody could design.”The corruptible system is a perfect fit for a corruptible incumbent. Lest we forget, Rangel was found guilty by his House peers of failing to report, on required congressional disclosure forms, that he owned income-generating properties in New York, New Jersey, Florida, and the Dominican Republic; failing to report, on those forms, that he had two bank accounts with a combined value as high as a million bucks; failing to report his dividend income from other investments; failing to report what he pocketed from the sale of a Harlem townhouse, not to mention the rental income he had made off that townhouse prior to sale.Rangel’s fellow congressmen also censured him for failing to pay taxes on rental income from that aforementioned Dominican villa; and for soliciting “charitable” donations from people who had business on Capitol Hill. He did a clever deal with an oil corporation, whereby the firm agreed to pony up a million bucks for an institute called The Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Policy – and, in return, Rangel pulled strings to protect a tax loophole beneficial to the firm. All told, Rangel’s peers ruled that he had brought “discredit to the House.”But they didn’t kick him out. Nor is it (yet) clear that the Democratic primary voters have kicked him out. Rangel is like “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave,” the disruptive John Belushi character on Saturday Night Live who comes to a party and is impossible to dislodge. He was out on the streets again, on our national holiday, touting his belief in “the system.” In his words, “I think it’s an appropriate time to say thank God for this system.”As well he should. The system, and the attendant perks of a long incumbency, have certainly been a boon to him.——-This week in Etch a Sketch: Remember, on Monday, when Mitt Romney’s top aide went on TV and contradicted the Republican talking point about the Obamacare mandate “tax?” As Eric Fehrnstrom pointed out, the same exact mandate in Romneycare wasn’t a tax, it was merely a “penalty” imposed on citizens who refuse to buy health coverage. Fehrnstrom: “The governor believes that what we put in place in Massachusetts was a penalty, and he disagrees with the (Supreme Court) ruling that the (Obamacare) mandate was a tax.”Well, so much for that conviction. Cue the new conviction. Romney himself went on TV yesterday to Etch a Sketch his own aide. Referring to the Obamacare penalty that would be imposed on health coverage refuseniks (a penalty that’s modeled on the Romneycare penalty), Romney now declares “it’s a tax.”Fehrnstrom, having been tossed under the bus, will surely manage to extricate himself. After all, in Romney world, what’s another flip flop?——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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