Rep. Charles Rangel forged ahead with plans for a fundraising gala on Wednesday night with Democratic luminaries including the governor, presumptive governor, and both of the state's U.S. senators on the guest list — not bad for a congressman steeping in a tempest of ethics charges.
The event, tied to his 80th birthday, has emerged as a test of political loyalty to Rangel, the dean of the state's congressional delegation. It came a just day after he delivered an impassioned speech on the House floor insisting he would not resign despite the 13 charges pending against him.
Despite Rangel's troubles, the fundraiser had sold out, with at least 800 people expected to crowd the ballroom at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, Rangel spokesman Bob Liff said. Many people planned to come because they felt the press and the political establishment had treated Rangel poorly, he said.
"A lot have been driven by a sense of unfairness," Liff said. "Whether it's resentment or rallying around Charlie, there's been an outpouring in the last week."
A House ethics panel has accused Rangel, the former House Ways and Means Committee chairman, of using official stationary 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.
Rangel is expected to face public trial in the House in September, just after he faces voters in New York's Sept. 14 primary. He faces a number of challengers, including Adam Clayton Powell IV, son of legendary Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., from whom Rangel wrested the Harlem seat in 1970.
The timing of Rangel's high-profile fundraiser couldn't be worse for state and national Democrats nervous about the likelihood of steep losses in November. Although the names of most of New York's top Democratic lawmakers were listed on the invitation, many appeared to balk in recent weeks at the notion of showing up in person.
In the end, most opted to do so, and several were scheduled to speak, including Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is running for governor. All three will face voters in November.
Outgoing Democratic Gov. David Paterson was set to serve as master of ceremonies, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-independent, was scheduled to make an appearance. Singer Dionne Warwick was to be the evening's entertainment draw after Aretha Franklin dropped out because of an injury.
Notable for their absence, however, were Rangel's House colleagues. Only six of the state's 27-member Democratic delegation planned to attend the fundraiser, along with Rep. Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania.
At least five New York House Democrats are believed to be vulnerable this November, including two-term Rep. Michael Arcuri, who has called on Rangel to resign. The National Republican Congressional Committee has hammered Arcuri and other endangered Democrats, insisting they return campaign contributions they've received from Rangel.
Rangel aides, for their part, pushed back at the notion that his allies were abandoning him at his time of need. The Rangel team planned to open the fundraiser to news coverage — an unusual step for most political campaigns, since candidates and officeholders typically balk at being photographed hobnobbing for cash.
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