Covering the midterm elections in Harlem

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This entry was originally posted “Charlie Rangel is still the king of Harlem” at http://jacksoncouse.com/beingthere on November 3rd, 2010.

Charlie Rangel addressing East Harlem meeting

OCT 28, 2010. New York, NY. Representative Charles Rangel addresses a Democratic meeting in East Harlem, New York. Rangel's district includes a large constituency of Spanish-speaking voters of Dominican descent, and Rangel addressed the crowd in both English and Spanish.

Charles Rangel with aide

OCT 28, 2010. New York, NY. Representative Charles Rangel of New York is flanked by Democratic politicians at rally in East Harlem.

campaign office

OCT 28th, 2010. New York, NY. Charles Rangel's empty campaign office. With an election nearly ensured by an overwhelming win in the Democratic primary, Rangel's campaign coasted to 80% of votes in the November 2nd midterm election.

A confession: I am an unrepentant politics-watcher. When I was assigned to cover the midterm elections at the beginning of November, I was terribly excited. There is no better people watching than politics, and there’s probably no better political people watching than in Harlem, New York.

I’ve been a fascinated by politics since a young age. I love watching the drama of campaigns, both in front of the cameras and behind the scenes. In politics I find three things that turn me on; charismatic figures (heroes and villains), argument over what the world is and should be, and acting-out in public. For me, watching politics is like watching a giant, complicated, messy, human play. I like to look at politics as a sociologist would.

Charles B. Rangel was the king of Harlem, are rare type of politician beyond reproach. Beloved by his constituents, he is a decorated war veteran who served as the Democratic Representative from Harlem for 20 straight terms. Despite looming corruption charges, he sailed to re-election with over 80 percent of the votes in the November mid-term election. Yesterday, the House voted to censure Representative Rangel. This is the first censure since 1983. It is a significant punishment for the powerful politician who founded the Congressional Black Congress and recently chaired the House Ways and Means Committee. Rangel was found to have committed a series of ethics violations, including having improperly filed his income taxes and having solicited campaign donations that put him in a conflict of interest. A censure is the most severe punishment available to the House without ejecting Rangel.

Charlie Rangel is a compelling politician and an easy person to photograph. He is an excellent orator. His comportment is refined. He floats through a room, and appears far younger than his 80 years. He is the consummate powerbroker, a part of the local political structure so entrenched that his re-election was a foregone conclusion. At a Democratic breakfast in Spanish Harlem, it was clear that Charlie Rangel’s power is also dynastic. Flanked by politicians of every level, Rangel comfortably played the king-maker. His blessing and support for lesser candidates seemed to be a prerequisite to their election. Their praise for him was a mix of reverence, fear, and bald-faced sycophancy.

As was made painfully clear by the Ethics Committee, Rep. Rangel is not the untouchable politician he appears to be. His political power may be diminished by the censure, but it is a punishment that lack any real consequences. Rangel punishment was simply to be called before the House to hear a reading of his transgressions. I think Charlie Rangel will survive, as much the dean of Harlem politics as ever.

Rangel after voting

NOV 2. New York, NY. Charles Rangel leaves a polling station in Harlem, NY after voting. Rangel was easily re-elected to his 20th term as Representative of the 15th Congressional district.

more from Jackson Couse can be found at http://jacksoncouse.com and his blog, http://jacksoncouse.com/beingthere

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Jackson Couse is a Canadian documentary photographer in New York City.

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