Friends and political allies of embattled Rep. Charlie Rangel are noticeably quiet after the disclosure that the 40-year House veteran and dean of the New York congressional delegation may face serious charges from a House ethics panel.
Rangel, 80, told reporters Friday that he looked forward to a public airing of the charges next week and fully intended to fight to clear his name. But national Democrats, already nervous about the party's prospects in the November election, had little to say publicly about Rangel's plight.
It's a particularly vexing situation for New York Democrats, who know Rangel well and have benefited for years from his campaign contributions and his advocacy for the state — particularly on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which he chaired before stepping down from the post last March.
To criticize Rangel would look politically expedient for these Democrats and could risk the ire of the Congressional Black Caucus and the many influential black activists in New York. But staying silent leaves them vulnerable to Republican charges that the party is not sufficiently tough on the ethical lapses of its members.
Another issue for many of New York's top officeholders: a scheduled Aug. 11 campaign fundraiser for Rangel at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, hosted by outgoing Gov. David Paterson and chaired by most of the state's Democratic party elite, including Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic candidate for governor, and Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-independent, was listed as a co-host as well.
Asked at a Buffalo event Friday about Rangel, Gillibrand said she still backed him and planned to attend the fundraiser.
"I support the chairman. He's done a great deal of good for this country," Gillibrand said, which drew a blast from Republican David Malpass, who is seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Gillibrand.
"By affirming her support for the ethically challenged congressman, Sen. Gillibrand has once again chosen insider Washington politics over the interests of New Yorkers," Malpass said.
Few others were willing to weigh in on Rangel's behalf.
In an e-mail message, Bloomberg spokesman Jason Post said the mayor's position had not changed and he would reserve judgment until evidence was presented by the ethics panel. A spokesperson said Schumer was still planning to attend the Rangel fundraiser, while a Cuomo spokesman said the campaign schedule had not been mapped out far enough yet to know whether Cuomo would be able to attend.
Also at issue for some New York Democrats: contributions Rangel has made to their campaign committees, which Republicans say are tainted.
Rangel made the vast majority of his contributions in the 2008 campaign cycle, before the ethics committee concluded he had broken House rules by accepting corporate donations for travel to the Caribbean earlier this year. After that, many Democrats gave Rangel's money to charity.
Two New York House Democrats, Dan Maffei and Michael McMahon, have said they will keep the money they've received from Rangel.
"I talked to him last night, and his position hasn't changed. We're not going to give up money that came from the past," Maffei spokeswoman Abigail Gardner said.
McMahon's spokeswoman, Jennifer Nelson, said McMahon had contributed the $1,000 he'd received from Rangel to the Wounded Warriors charity but that he would keep the rest.
"As Congressman McMahon has said before, he is not going to take other people's money to replace funds already spent to satisfy those seeking political gain," Nelson said.
For his part, Rangel has said he fully intends to run for another term. He faces four poorly funded challengers in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, including Adam Clayton Powell IV, the son of the famed Harlem congressman Rangel first defeated in 1970.