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Rangel, Charles Bernard (1930- )

Hillary Clinton and Charles Rangel
Image Courtesy of the US Congress
Democratic representative of New York City, Charles Bernard Rangel, first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1970, is now one of the longest serving members of Congress. Rangel was born in Brooklyn, New York City in 1930. He attended De Witt Clinton High School but dropped out in 1948 and entered the U.S. Army.  Two years later he served in the second infantry division in Korea where he earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his actions in combat.

In 1952 Rangel was discharged and returned to New York, graduated from high school, earned a B.S. degree from New York University in 1957 and a J.D degree from St. Johns University in 1960.  Upon admittance to the bar Rangel began practicing law in New York City.

In 1964 Charles Rangel spent the year as assistant U.S. attorney for the south district of New York working under U.S. Attorney Robert Morgenthau.  In 1965 he was counsel to the Speaker of the New York State Assembly.  He also served as counsel to the President’s Commission to Revise the Draft Laws.  Throughout the late 1960s Rangel was legal advisor to many civil rights activists in New York and the South.

Charles Rangel was elected to the New York State Assembly, representing the 72nd District (Central Harlem), in 1966. In 1970 he entered the Democratic primary where he narrowly defeated legendary Congressman Adam Clayton Powell.  In November he was elected to represent New York’s 15th District in Congress over token Republican opposition.  A co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971, Rangel was elected chair of the group. He also served in the House Judiciary Committee’s hearings on the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.

Rangel’s three decades in Congress, representing Harlem, the smallest Congressional district in land area in the United States, has been marked by a commitment to control the use of illegal drugs and drug-related violence and to tax relief for the poor.  He has also advocated for federal funds to develop impoverished urban neighborhoods, and legislation to protect people of color and veterans. In 1983, Rangel became chairman of the Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control and was appointed a Deputy Whip for the House Democratic leadership.

In late 1998 when New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan announced his retirement, Rangel became one of the first New York political leaders to call on First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to move to New York to run for Moynihan’s seat.  Clinton did and was elected in 2000.

In January 2007, Rangel became Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.  As head of the Committee charged with writing tax legislation and bills affecting Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlement programs, Rangel holds one of the most powerful positions in Congress.  

Often called feisty and dramatic, Rangel has become known as an outspoken participant in protests against human rights violations. Charles Rangel and his wife Alma live in Harlem. They have two children, Steven and Alicia.

Bruce A. Ragsdale and Joel D. Treese, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington, D.C.; U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990);


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