Maffei worked for Rangel early in Maffei’s Washington career. He has
decided not to distance himself from Rangel, even as the Washington
legend heads toward a rare House trial on ethical matters. Specifically,
Maffei has declined to return the donations Rangel helped raise for his
campaign. He can’t even say he wouldn’t take money if it were offered
today, calling such a possibility “too theoretical.”
When asked about his relationship with Rangel, Maffei replies that
Rangel is his friend, and he is not about to turn his back on a friend.
“You deplore the sin, but love the sinner,” says Maffei.
But Rangel (D-New York) has not confessed to any sins, and seems
determined to bluster his way through the charges by blaming the media
and his political opponents for his downfall. Rangel has come to
symbolize what many people see as what is wrong with Washington, and for
good reason. His are not the worst offenses Washington has seen in
recent years, not by a long shot. But his actions and attitudes awaken
the fear in many of us that those we send to Washington end up with
lifestyles that remove them from understanding how the rest of us live.
Rangel has made matters worse for himself by refusing to negotiate a
settlement of the charges. Instead, he took the Roger Clemens position
and painted himself into a corner with his blanket denials of
wrongdoing, even as the contradictions in his statements mounted.
Rangel’s distinguished career culminated in 2007 with his election as
chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, a pinnacle of power in the
House, and a throne from which other notable lawmakers, like Wilbur
Mills, have tumbled in disgrace. Rangel resigned the post earlier this
year when the Ethics Committee was about to release its report accusing
him of, among other things, conflict of interest, misuse of staff time,
failure to report income, using a rent-controlled apartment as a
campaign office, and trading his vote on an important tax issue for a
contribution to a college think tank being named in his honor (yet
another good example of why public entities should never be named for
Maffei, in defending his decision to hang on to Rangel-tainted money,
says the House found that none of Rangel’s offenses were related to his
fund-raising, and therefore he is not going to return the money, as
Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-Utica) has promised to do. That is splitting
hairs and missing the point.
Charlie Rangel is the poster child for everything that the public,
fairly or unfairly, perceives as being wrong with Congress. And Maffei
doesn’t get it. His judgment clouded by his friendship with someone he
once greatly admired, he now seems to blame the media and the ethics
committee, lamenting that some have chosen to “Make politics of a very
Let’s hold the sympathy. Rangel is not a victim caught in a sad
situation; he is a politician who has clearly betrayed the public trust.
Cancer is a sad situation; corruption is a different matter altogether.
I think I will save my sympathy for the poor families in his district
who might have made good use of the rent-controlled apartments he kept
out of their hands. Those who rightly pointed out the good done by
Rangel in his long career (Maffei made sure to mention the Bronze Star
Rangel received in the Korean War) shouldn’t let that excuse his current
excesses. Maffei shrugs and says of Rangel “he’s from a previous
generation.” That would be the Jimmy Carter generation, no?
It’s obvious to anyone with any distance from the party that the
congenial Rangel suffers from a nasty mix of arrogance and seniority
that made him feel both entitled and above the law. Maffei acknowledges
that his friend is guilty of “at least arrogance and blatant oversight.”
That doesn’t make him unique. It does make him a liability and a
disgrace. Decorated and venerated in the past, there is no other way to
describe his current status.
Maffei sounds pained, as if he is asking for sympathy for his
predicament. “No one is more disappointed than I am,” he told me. One
wonders if Maffei would use the same language to refer to say, Tom
Although Maffei agrees that the Ethics Committee procedure should go
forward, he doesn’t say that Rangel should be censured. He doesn’t join
the president in suggesting that Rangel quietly retire. He doesn’t feel
that he needs to return any of the thousands of dollars Rangel has
helped him raise. He doesn’t see what is clearly visible to the rest of
us—that Rangel has decided he is invincible and that the rules don’t
apply to him.
“People say ‘well, you should have nothing to do with Charlie Rangel’
but he’s a friend of mine,” says Maffei. “Clearly he did something
wrong. I don’t condone that, but I’m his friend. You can’t stop being
someone’s friend. I can’t change my resume. That’s not how I’m made.”
It’s easy to point out wrongdoing when the wrong is being done by
your adversaries. What takes courage is to speak up when the one
violating your principles is your friend. The people of the 25th
District need to remind our first-term congressman that we didn’t send
him to Washington to act as Charlie Rangel’s friend, but rather as our