What Charlie Rangel Really Said About the Race in the NY 13th Congressional District
By Maria Teresa Montilla, Former President
Dominican American National Roundtable
A transcendental historic milestone for Dominicans in the United States arrived, but they’re prevented (and suppressed) from celebrating it.
The election (in the primaries) of the first candidate to the U.S. House of Representatives, of Dominican descent, should have ushered-in congratulations from everywhere, beginning with the retiring iconic Congressman who, for more than four decades preached and embodied fair representation for our communities, not to mention the enjoyment of adulation from the Dominican community, in particular.
Instead, Congressman Charles Rangel, the Gentleman from Harlem, the beloved Charlie, issued a damming and heartbreaking (for Dominicans) statement.
“Can you tell the people in Boston that someday you won’t have an Irish congressman? I don’t want to talk about it and it can’t happen now that’s for damn sure.”
Hours can be spent analyzing the possible mindset behind the statement, its ramifications and effect, but I will limit my analysis to five truths that it highlights:
1. Groups will deny others what they rightfully demand for themselves. Back when the African American community of then Congressional District 13 had grown to a level that merited representation, a prominent group of African Americans met with the American Congressman representing the district at the time, and told him (paraphrasing) ‘We have had a good relationship and have collaborated with you up until now; we love you; but it is time we represent ourselves’. They elected an African American to Congress.
2. When push comes to shove, real non-loyalty will emerge. Rangel has had a good relationship with Dominicans in Washington Heights for over five decades; a relationship that has benefited him far more than Dominicans; but when the political rubber meets the road of ‘blood is thicker than water’, his loyalty is clear. All the lip service he paid Dominicans about seeking empowerment and promises of his support over the years, was just lip service.
3. The possibilities of true alliance of interest between two minority communities is weakened by statements such as this one. New York has been one of the states where instances of coalitions of interest have rendered excellent results. We should be building on this effective and honorable strategy for empowerment, not undermine it.
4. A historically oppressed and disenfranchised community will oppress and disenfranchise another community. Pretty much like the victim becomes the victimizer. Long are the days when the halls of congress were filled with white men who represented everyone. We all celebrate the gender and racial diversity of Congress; the attaining of power by women and African Americans. Common sense dictates that those who rose from obscurity will support others on their similar journey. Not in politics, not in New York.
5. Iconic figures and revered leaders will disappoint. Communities expect their leaders to lead by example; to learn respect for people, institutions and processes from watching them show respect. Rangel’s reaction might have been one of disappointment and even sadness at the loss of a seat that was so historically meaningful to African Americans, but to state: ‘I don’t want to talk about it and it can’t happen now that’s for damn sure’, showed disrespect for the democratic process of elections, and for Dominicans, who were so naively celebrating their historically meaningful milestone.
A few lessons to be learned.