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.
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. □