As the summer approaches and campaign season heats up, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) is finding himself answering questions about his ethnicity rather than his polices. Many of Rangel’s constitutes, most of whom are Latino after redistricting has changed the face of his congressional district, are asking why it is that Rangel doesn’t mention his Latino roots.
Rangel, who was born to a Puerto Rican father and African-American mother, wrote in his biography about his difficult childhood and why he doesn’t speak of his father.
“When he abandoned my mom as a kid, that ended it as far as the relationship,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s a painful relationship, and I don’t talk about it because I’ve never had any experiences there.” The Congressman also writes about an experience he had as a child where he witnessed his father beat his mother. “I went and got a broom to hit my father,” Mr. Rangel wrote. “He started laughing at me and then just walked away. I guess I’ve hated him ever since.”
His 2012 challengers, who have had experiences courting the Latino vote, have made this year’s primary the most competitive Democratic primary Rangel has faced in decades. Adriano Espaillat, a Dominican-born state senator is campaigning heavily on the premise that his victory would make him the country’s first Dominican-born Congressman.
Some have speculated that another reason Rangel may not want to talk about his Latin heritage is to sidestep embarrassing questions about the 2010 censure that stemmed from unpaid taxes he owed on income from a vacation villa in the Dominican Republic. Rangel was convicted in a Congressional trial on counts of ethical wrongdoing after filing misleading financial statements for decades devaluing his holdings in the Dominican Republic.
Latino constituents seem to be split on whether Rangel’s ethnicity has impacted his work in Congress. Yolanda Sanchez, 80, an East Harlem activist, feels Rangel burying his Latino roots has adversely impacted Hispanic residents in East Harlem. “He’s done virtually nothing for East Harlem, and probably less for the Puerto Ricans of East Harlem,” she said in the New York Times.
Assemblyman Robert J. Rodriguez, who has endorsed Rangel, feels that Rangel has displayed great leadership in Congress, “with respect to federal legislation and moving forward those priorities that are important to the Latino community and low-income communities,” Mr. Rodriguez said, “the congressman has been absolutely a leader.”
His chances of keeping his seat in Congress will undoubtedly be decided by his relationship with the Latino community, making the painful memories of his heritage something the Congressman may finally have to face.
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