- Associated Press - Thursday, August 12, 2010

NEW YORK | Buoyed by a huge turnout at a Wednesday evening fundraising gala marking his 80th birthday, embattled Democratic Rep. Charles B. Rangel said Thursday that he was eager to turn his attention to his re-election campaign and let the ethics charges against him play out in Washington.

The once-unquestioned dean of the state’s congressional delegation said he’d rather focus on campaigning across his storied district in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood.

“There’s no question in my mind there are people who can more than adequately represent this great and diversified district. The problem is, none of them is running in this race,” Mr. Rangel said, surrounded by cheering supporters.

The 20-term incumbent faces a number of challengers, including state Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary. Mr. Rangel defeated Mr. Powell’s father, the legendary Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., in 1970 in his first race for Congress.

A House ethics panel has accused Mr. Rangel, the former chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, of using official stationery to raise money for a college center bearing his name; delaying tax payments on income on a rental unit in the Dominican Republic; failing to file his financial disclosure statements on time; and operating four rent-stabilized apartments in New York, including one he used as a campaign office.

Republicans are already citing Mr. Rangel as a symbol of Democratic misrule in Congress, and proof that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has failed in her pledge to “drain the swamp” of corruption on Capitol Hill when Democrats regained their majority in the House in 2007.

Despite discomfort from many fellow Democrats, Mr. Rangel has vowed to fight the charges and is refusing to resign. He’s expected to face a public trial in the House this fall - a prospect that has spooked national Democrats already bracing for steep losses in November.

Mr. Rangel, who gave an impassioned 37-minute address on the House floor defending his record earlier this week, insisted his personal problems wouldn’t affect the outcome of other races.

“I refuse to believe that I’m either that important or infamous that my problems are going to interfere with any good person getting elected,” Mr. Rangel said, adding that he was sure his Democratic colleagues were serving their constituents well and that most were safely on their way to re-election.

He said he didn’t expect much campaign help from Washington, since a Democrat will be elected to represent his politically reliable district even if he were to lose in the primary.

Mr. Rangel continued to hammer away at what he called negative and false news coverage that he said had driven most of the ethics complaints. Many of the Democratic lawmakers who attended his fundraiser, including Gov. David A. Paterson, Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and gubernatorial nominee Andrew Cuomo, did so because they know the hazards of being mischaracterized in the media, he said.

Former Mayor David Dinkins, who made an obscene gesture at a garrulous protester outside the fundraiser, captured his sense of frustration the best, he said.

“Mayor Dinkins really expressed my view the best last night,” Mr. Rangel said. “I can’t find a better way to say it.”