Rep. Rangel; Will He Or Won’t He Step Down? Was Columnist Barking Up Wrong Tree?

“I heard that Charlie Rangel told a group of Uptown business people recently, that though he plans to run again, within a year of reelection he’ll resign, for health reasons. Inez Dickens will take his place!”

[Notes From The Frontline]


Over the past months, for work and to get a break, I’ve traveled.

These tiny treks have made one matter quite clear. Many things, some of which are the finest of their kind, actually exist outside of New York.

Seeing the graceful grouping of allegorical figures created by Alexander Calder at Logan Square in Philadelphia, for instance, one’s left to concede that Manhattan offers no fountain to equal it. Here, such magnificent arrangements of over life-sized statues, magically brought to life by jets and arcs of ordinary water, are few and far between. The most exceptional example is probably in Brooklyn

How peculiar, that as with a loved one, a short absence, spent apart from some place that’s dear, can make us feel much happier about it on our return.

Steeped in uncountable sagas that helped to launch the early USA, my destinations, Boston, Philadelphia, the Hamptons, Newport—are each marvelous repositories of gracious old buildings. Heroic, historic or even, sometimes, heinous, defining stories that surround the evolution of these towns, in fact, are best embodied by such structures. Like water in a fountain, it’s this illustrious antique architecture, acting as an enduring backdrop that serves as a crucial element, that makes their history live.

But, back at home, in Harlem, I’m bluer than I’ve ever been. It’s not because the history of any of these other spots is more significant than ours in New York. Instead, it’s discovering how citizens in each, seem to have found far more effective ways to preserve their building heritage, than we have. Some have preservation groups that even seek to reach out and actively involve, their Black communities.

Moreover, all possess museums exclusively devoted to local history along with house museums that celebrate Blacks of national stature. In Harlem, at the Schomburg Center and the Studio Museum, neighborhood history, is, at best, only a minor adjunct, of missions with far broader scope.

As for house museums, the 2 located in the African American Cultural Capital, each commemorates a White slave owner. On the remainder of Manhattan Island, where so many distinguished Blacks still live, not one of 5 similar museums pays tribute to a non-White person.

If “Niggeratti Manor”, where Bruce Nugent and Wallace Thurman once lived and the former houses of Madame C. J. Walker and Florence Mills have already been destroyed, what hope is there for the unprotected Harlem homes of other greats from our past, like Scott Joplin, Langston Hughes, Bert Williams or Ruby Dee? And, what will be the fate of such houses at Addisleigh Park, in Queens, once inhabited by legends like Roy Campanella, James Brown, Lena Horne and Lady Day?

Ha! One lives here and accepts as holy gospel, that nobody exceeds whatever we do, we are always the baddest and the loudest. But, then the cruel truth appears, refusing to be ignored, proving that New York’s Black heritage, much like its Black residents, is fast disappearing.

Being aware of this inference, even granting that Harlem, looks better than it has in years, offers little comfort. Each tree planted or gorgeous displays of flowers and every newly renovated and restored building only act to make displacement a greater certainty. Knowing this, how can even long sought community improvements make one anything, other than dismayed?

At least wherever you venture, you’re still always sure to learn lots of interesting intelligence in Harlem. That’s true of other small places like Newport as well.

Suffering a series of strokes since we last met a couple summers ago, at 92, Eileen Slocum finally died. One has never witnessed so many well dressed blonds, joined by others, all bravely pretending to ignore the humidity.

Filling even the slave gallery, this great gathering of mourners, threatens to overflow elegant, early 18th century Trinity Church. In lieu of the quaint old English hymns, ordinarily associated with the Episcopal Church, there are instead, anthems of a more appropriate militancy. For what, apart from Onward Christian Soldiers or the Battle Hymn of the Republic, better indicates, that even in the end, Mrs. Slocum intends to retain control?

Two of her numerous descendants have served as officers in the War in Iraq. Both deliver moving remembrances, particularly Sherman Powell, the congressman’s grandson. Living in Newport with his grandmother, while attending high school, this handsome young father seems to of absorbed and adopted many of the values she treasured most. Certainly the deep bond they developed is without dispute.

Yet, afterward, as part of a luncheon throng eating chicken a la king on the terrace of Mrs. Slocum’s house, discrete inquires revealed the same old contradiction: Sherman’s long ago disobedient mother remains disinherited. As a direct consequence, so does he and a twin son and daughter, born shortly before their great-grandmother’s death.

As imperfect as the rest of us, my favorite memory of Mrs. Slocum will always be from a party for her Powell grandsons. She’d never before seen the photograph Ebony magazine made, showing her in a picture-hat, at her daughter Beryl’s wedding. Jacketed in gold, the book it illustrates, by Gerri Major, is entitled, Black Society.

Momentarily, Mrs. Slocum becomes wide-eyed. Calling over her son, with deliberation, a bejeweled finger underlines for him, each word of the title. “Guess”, she announces, in a near whisper, “who‘s in here?” Then, quietly but gleefully too, she turns the pages and exhibits her image.

Watching, one feels somehow, that there are few categories in which Mrs. Slocum would eschew being counted as an acknowledged leader. What though can it mean, the Doyenne of Newport both embracing and rejecting her role in history: one that both upheld and helped to change “Society”, simultaneously?

At Martha Dolly’s Friday supper the conversation doesn’t heat up until after I’ve finally finished recounting my many recent sojourns: “I heard that Charlie Rangel told a group of Uptown business people recently, that though he plans to run again, within a year of reelection he’ll resign, for health reasons. Inez Dickens will take his place!”

“Who the hell told you that ?”, I ask the young art dealer breathlessly, envisioning all at once, Harlem, wrecked by a hack and a Pulitzer Prize. “Our lawyer…” she says emphatically.

Naturally, armed with an imagined scoop, I blow it. Partly, my downfall comes from not doing my homework. But alas, jumping to conclusions, plays a part as well.

Knowing of Congressman Rangel’s close ties to his neighbor, Governor David Paterson, without first checking, I assume that it falls under the governor’s purview to appoint replacements for any interrupted congressional term.

It stands to reason, that if senators, serving for 6 years are replaced this way, that congressmen, sitting for just 2 years, are as well? Right?

“I never said that!”, rebukes my dinner companion. “He‘s merely planning to set a special election in play to make it easier for Inez. She can’t make it in a regular election. But endorsed by Rangel, catching everyone broke and off guard, she could squeak in. ”

Not knowing what I was talking about, at first, it’s no surprise that Congressman Rangel’s office fails to call me again. Still I disagree with Martha Dolly who insists, “ Why lower yourself, by joining the New York Times and the effort to destroy that man? You criticize the closing of the Record Shack and gentrification. You all say he should not have endorsed Columbia’s expansion or developers who wanted rezoning. Only, what could Charlie Rangel, one man, do to stop all this? You blame him for taking contributions from developers. Who here doesn’t? Aren‘t they his constituents too?”

Well of course you’re right, no single individual can block a massive tide. I’ve been reading a new book, though, called, City of Disorder. Alex Vitale, the author, says that as long ago as Mayor Lindsay, Dinkins included, that administrations have directed far more tax dollars towards luxury apartments than to affordable housing.

That’s why when they ask for ideas, I’ve told the Coalition to Save Harlem how all the politicians have approved projects and policy that threatens our security. So forget about taking 1,000 people to 125th Street. Take just 10 and picket on East 79th Street, from the Mayor’s house to Amanda Mortimer Burden’s apartment, everyday, for a week.

When you’re done there, march for another week between Congressman Rangel’s building, on 135th Street and Governor Paterson’s, on 132nd. Because, let’s face it, they each already enjoy, what you, what everyone in Harlem, the city and country want: a nice place to live or work, that’s also affordable. As my late friend Mrs. Slocum might say, “Get to it!”






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