Monday, April 30, 2007

Charles Rangel In His Own Words...

CHARLES RANGEL is the man who brought you Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. “No, no, no!” she protested each time he urged her to run. “But in the end,” she recalled, “like so many women before me, I just couldn’t say no.”

In his irreverent memoir, “And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since: From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress” (Thomas Dunne Books, $24.95), written with Leon Wynter, Mr. Rangel engagingly recalls his challenging childhood, his introduction into clubhouse politics and his defeat of the formidable Adam Clayton Powell. He also describes his induction into the Gang of Four, as Manhattan’s black Democratic power brokers came to be called in 1985, when the mayoral candidacy of Herman Badillo “helped open up an unfortunate wound of political distrust between blacks and Hispanics in New York that persists to this day.”

The reader gets to eavesdrop on conversations with power brokers like Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. The reader can also weigh Mr. Rangel’s assessment that the victory in the 1969 mayoral primary of Mario Procaccino, who memorably declared that his heart was as black as any black man’s, signaled a conservative shift that led to the election of Edward Koch and Rudolph Giuliani.

Mr. Rangel and Mr. Koch became antagonists, but it was mostly business, not personal. Their conflicts, Mr. Rangel says, were rooted in “my longstanding feeling that his values would be more comfortable in a Giuliani Republican Party” and represented “a modern form of ethnic political theater that, however regrettable, I understood.”

“I wish I could say the same for Mario Cuomo,” Mr. Rangel laments. “I still don’t get the meaning of Mario Cuomo and his remarkable, dead-end career.”

From his Harlem apartment, Mr. Rangel can see his grandfather’s brownstone on West 132nd Street and Lenox Avenue, but, in many respects, he has come a long way; this year, he was made chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Despite this achievement, his book mostly looks back, barely touching on his unfinished political agenda, which, perhaps, befits a memoir by a man who is almost 77.

He recalls the response of a former Congressional colleague, Claude Pepper, who was about the same age as Mr. Rangel is now when a broker was urging him to make some long-term investment. To which Mr. Pepper replied: “Young man, at my age, I don’t even buy green bananas.” Mr. Pepper, by the way, served in Congress until his death — at nearly 89.

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