Rangel, Charles Bernard

views updated Jun 27 2018

Rangel, Charles Bernard

June 11, 1930

Politician Charles Rangel was born and raised in Harlem. His parents separated when he was a small child, and he lived with his mother and grandfather. He dropped out of high school in his junior year and worked at odd jobs until 1948, when he enlisted in the army. He was deployed to South Korea, where he was stationed for four years and served in the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star Medal of Valor and a Purple Heart.

After the war Rangel returned to high school in New York and received his diploma in 1953. He then entered the New York University School of Commerce, earning a B.S. in 1957. He went on to St. John's University Law School, where he obtained his J.D. in 1960. After law school he worked as an attorney and provided legal assistance to civil rights activists. In 1961 he was appointed an assistant United States attorney in the Southern District of New York. He resigned from this position after one year and worked as legal counsel to the New York City Housing and Redevelopment Board, as legal assistant to Judge James L. Watson, as an associate counsel to the speaker of the New York State Assembly, and as general counsel to the National Advisory Commission on Selective Service. In the winter of 19631964 Rangel and his friend Percy Sutton founded the John F. Kennedy Democratic Club in Harlem, later renamed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Democratic Club.

Rangel began his career in politics in 1966, when he was elected to represent central Harlem in the New York State Assembly. He served two two-year terms as a leading liberal in the legislature, supporting the legalization of abortion, opposing stiffer penalties on prostitution, and endorsing antiwar protests.

Rangel moved into national politics in 1970, when he narrowly defeated the longtime incumbent congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr., who had represented Harlem since 1945. Once in office Rangel immediately established as his top priority the elimination of the drug trade. He called for the elimination of foreign aid to Turkey for its cultivation of opium poppies and opposed New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay's plan to issue maintenance doses of heroin to addicts.

In the 1970s Rangel took a leading position as a congressional dove. He consistently voted to reduce the military budget, opposed the development of the B-1 bomber and nuclear aircraft carriers, and vigorously criticized the war in Southeast Asia. Rangel's liberalism extended to domestic issues as well. He voted for busing to desegregate schools, federal assistance for abortions, the creation of a consumer protection agency, and the implementation of automobile pollution controls.

Rangel gained national exposure in 1974 as a member of the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment hearings for President Nixon. That year he was also elected chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, a position he held through 1975. In 1975 Rangel became the first African American appointed to the House Ways and Means Committee. He obtained the chairmanship of the influential health subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee in 1979. In 1980 he became a member of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, and in 1983 he was made a deputy whip by Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill and appointed chair of the Select Committee on Narcotics.

Through the 1980s Rangel served as the chief congressional gadfly on drug issues and repeatedly chastised the Reagan and Bush administrations for their "turtlelike speed" in addressing the narcotics crisis. In 1989, as chair of the House Narcotics Task Force, Rangel led a congressional delegation to the Caribbean and Mexico to help coordinate the international crackdown on drugs. In later years he served as a leading voice against the movement to legalize narcotics. In 1994 Rangel was challenged in the Democratic primary by Adam Clayton Powell IV, the son of the man he had unseated, but he emerged victorious.

Called "Mr. Harlem," Rangel has been elected to serve seventeen consecutive terms in Congress through 2005. He is the ranking member of the House Committee on Ways and Means, chair of the board of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and dean of the New York State Congressional Delegation. Rangel is also credited as the principal architect of the five billion dollar Federal Empowerment Zone project to revitalize the nation's urban areas.

See also Congressional Black Caucus; Politics in the United States


Clay, William L. Just Permanent Interests: Black Americans in Congress, 18701991. New York: Amistad Press, 1992.

Ragsdale, Bruce, and Joel D. Treese. Black Americans in Congress, 18701989. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990.

thaddeus russell (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005

Charles B. Rangel

views updated May 23 2018

Charles B. Rangel

Charles B. Rangel (born 1930) was a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York City for more than 15 years. His major concern was the effects of narcotics on people and society.

Charles B. Rangel was born June 11, 1930, in Harlem in New York City. In 1948 he dropped out of high school to join the army. He was soon sent to Korea, where he received both a Purple Heart for being injured and a Bronze Star for bravery. The wounded Rangel led 40 of his comrades for three days behind enemy lines rather than surrender.

After his discharge from the army in 1952 Rangel worked in New York's garment district while completing high school. After receiving his diploma in 1953 he enrolled in New York University and graduated with a degree in accounting in 1957. In 1960 he received a law degree from St. John's University Law School and was soon admitted to the New York State Bar. From 1961 to 1962 Rangel served the southern district of New York as an assistant U.S. attorney.

Rangel was more interested in politics than in prosecuting criminals, and in 1966 he was elected to the first of two terms in the New York State Assembly. As an assemblyman Rangel was deeply concerned about the people in his district, which included Harlem. He walked the streets and talked with the people he represented. Rangel concluded that narcotics which threatened the stability and lives of thousands of youth were the major problem confronting his constituents, contending that "the country should treat this as a threat to national security. I don't think we should do anything less than we should do if missiles were pointed at our country." Rangel also advocated legalized gambling. He claimed that "for the average Harlemite, playing numbers … is moral and a way of life."

In 1970 Rangel sought the 19th district congressional seat held by Adam Clayton Powell. Rangel defeated the once powerful congressman in a close Democratic primary race. He did so with the endorsement of the Republican Party, and in the general election he defeated candidates representing the Liberal, Conservative, Communist, and Socialist Workers parties. As a congressman, Rangel continued his attack on the narcotics problem. He believed drugs to be the curse of the African American community and responsible for much of the crime there. In 1971 he attacked police corruption in New York City, accusing officers of drug trafficking. He also charged the U.S. State Department with "being involved in a conspiracy" with the French and Turkish governments which grew and processed narcotics "for the purpose of illegally importing" them into the United States. Later that year, President Richard Nixon telephoned Rangel to inform him that Turkey had agreed to end its production of opium poppies within a year.

Rangel concentrated most of his energy on the drug problem. Education, housing, and health were all affected by drugs, he argued, and he proposed that economic aid to foreign countries who refused to act against the illegal drug traffic be ended. He was also influential in getting such a law passed. Rangel later chaired the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control which examined the problems of drug abuse and trafficking.

With his appointment as deputy whip to the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee in 1983, Rangel joined the inner sanctum of the House Democratic leadership. He was appointed in 1974 as the first African American to serve on powerful Ways and Means committee. He also chaired the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. As an influential member of the Ways and Means committee, he was instrumental in getting before the Congress the concept of economic aid for beleagured cities in the from of "Enterprise Zones," a combination of grants and tax breaks for businesses that invest in inner cities. The concept was put into law in 1993.

In his many years of winning reelection as a U.S. representative, Rangel has become an influential and highly respected member of Congress. He is considered by some of his colleagues to be one of the most liberal members of the House. He is also the New York representative with the broadest power base. Although his power and influence increased in the nation's capitol, Rangel maintained close ties with his constituents. He regularly attends meetings on community problems with state legislators and city councilmen from his district. He ran on all three party lines in New York and attended the annual political dinners of the Democratic, Republican, and Liberal parties. In the congressman's Washington office hangs a portrait of Adam Clayton Powell as "a reminder of what can happen in Washington." Elected for his fourteenth term in 1996, he became the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means committee. Rangel's ambition to be speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives might someday become a reality.

Further Reading

For additional information on Rangel's House career and voting patterns see the bi-annual editions of Barone, Ujifusa, and Matthews, The Almanac of American Politics. See also editions of Allen Ehrenhalt, Politics in America.

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Charles Bernard Rangel

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