One year after a House Ethics investigation tainted Rep. Charlie Rangel’s 80th birthday party fundraiser, the Harlem veteran threw himself another party on Wednesday night, and many of New York’s major Democratic figures were there.
Governor Andrew Cuomo made an early appearance but left before the night’s emcee — his predecessor, David Paterson — began introducing the night’s speakers. Cuomo and Paterson did run into one another. (“Hey, young man!” Cuomo said as he embraced Paterson. The two spoke privately as several aides surrounded the two men.)
“I read a piece that said [Rangel's] running again. That’ll be his decision,” Cuomo told the Observer in a brief interview. “If he runs, he’ll be a formidable candidate. You can feel the support in the room. And we’ll take it from there.”
I asked Cuomo — a governor who hasn’t left the state since taking office — if he would travel outside New York to help elect President Obama.
“I would help the president in any way that I can,” Cuomo said. “I think it’s very important that we re-elect him. So, any way that I can help him, I will. I’m going to see him in the next couple of days,” Cuomo noted. “I was with him last week at a fund-raiser.” (The governor meant a fund-raiser for Obama; the president was not in attendance.)
In the lobby outside the third floor ballroom, the organizers of the event displayed a picture of Rangel, smiling, walking through a doorway with a smiling President Obama standing to the side. President Obama — who will be in NYC tonight for a series of fund-raisers — had said last year amid Rangel’s controversy that the 20-term congressman should end his career “with dignity,” which many people took to be the president’s call for Rangel to resign rather than go through an embarrassing ethics investigation.
Rangel has cited the need to support Obama as one reason for continuing in Congress, and on stage, the congressman spoke positively about the president, saying he’s faced unprecedented obstruction from Republican lawmakers.
“The truth of the matter is, when a handful of people are prepared to take down our great country, to go to the cliff and tell the whole world that you can’t depend on us to pay [what] we owe, we are in trouble,” he said.
Rangel introduced the night’s emcee, former Governor David Paterson, whom Rangel incorrectly said “became a lawyer” before going on to serve as a State Senator and became “one of the most outstanding governor’s we’ve had in our great state.” (Paterson never actually became a lawyer, but did work for the Queens district attorney.)
Comedian Paul Mooney — wearing a red cap with the word “Harlem” written in sequence, said he liked Rangel. “He reminds me of Adam Clayton Powell,” the comedian said. “That’s why I like him. He’s a double agent. He looks like a white man.”
Rangel replaced Powell in 1970, and has been challenged twice by his son, Adam Clayton Powell IV.
Rangel’s actual birthday was two months ago, on June 11, but his wife Alma’s birthday is August 12th, the congressman told the audience. He presented Alma with a bouquet of roses on stage and when singer Aretha Franklin led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday,” the congressman smiled and pointed to his wife.
Among the attendees were a number of likely 2013 mayoral candidates: City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, former comptroller and 2009 Democratic candidate Bill Thompson, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and — the only one of them who got to speak from the stage — current City Comptroller John Liu.
Rep. Joseph Crowley and Rep. Greg Meeks, both of Queens, were in attendance, as was Democratic congressional candidate David Weprin.
On his way out of the event, Weprin bumped into former mayor Ed Koch — who recently endorsed his opponent, Republican Bob Turner. Weprin shook hands with Koch and turned around to a young man who snapped a photograph of the two men and said, “That’s the money shot.”
Before the night was over, the crowd was treated to a handful of songs from Aretha Franklin. After singing some new songs — and, of course, “Respect” and “Happy Birthday,” the legendary singer urged the audience to buy her album at either Wal-Mart or “Walmart.com.”