With Charlie Rangel's Challenger, Déja Vu

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For the first time in a long time, Rep. Charlie Rangel is worrying about his re-election prospects. As buzz builds over his 13 ethics charges, the Harlem Democrat is concerned about one particular challenger in the Democratic primary: Adam Clayton Powell IV, whose father Rangel defeated in a contentious congressional primary 40 years ago. The senior Powell was the first black member of Congress from New York and, like Rangel, a Harlem legend.

Michael Barbaro at the New York Times profiles the race between Rangel and the junior Powell, who interned in Rangel's office when he was 19 and is now a five-term state assembly member determined to win back his family's legacy:

[Powell] became a student of his father's career, which includes striking parallels to Mr. Rangel's. Both rose from working-class roots to dominate Harlem politics, faced allegations of financial misconduct, came under intense pressure to resign and sought re-election anyway.

But Mr. Powell sees his father's essence as starkly different from Mr. Rangel's. "My dad fought the system his whole career," he said. "Charles Rangel became part of the system. He embraces the political trade and the political games, and he rejoices in the backslapping and connections."

The younger Mr. Powell has borrowed his father's brash and impatient style, at times to his detriment. He repeatedly ran without the customary endorsements of elected officials or the support of his party. The experience intensified his alienation from the city's Democratic machine and his anger at its leaders, especially Mr. Rangel. 

Powell is dogged by his own flawed history, including a DUI in 2008 and a less-than-stellar reputation in Albany: 

Over the last five years, [Powell] has not introduced a single bill, according to a legislative database. He disputed that figure, though he seemed fuzzy on the details. "I passed one this year, or maybe last year. But within the last term, certainly," he said.

He said he had chosen his battles carefully: He recalled sponsoring a bill that exempts many elderly people from paying rent increases. "In the type of district I represent, people have bigger concerns than what kind of bird will be the official bird for New York," he said.

Mr. Powell's personal life has become as well known as his political one, and has complicated his portrayal of Mr. Rangel as unscrupulous and tainted.

He was twice accused of rape, once by a 19-year-old Assembly intern who later recanted her claim. No charges were ever filed in either case.

Mr. Powell conceded that the relationship with the intern was "inappropriate," but added that "inappropriateness is a lot of things." He welcomes comparisons with Mr. Rangel. "If the worst I have is a violation because somebody thinks I had one too many, I will take it," he said of his conviction for driving while impaired.

His bigger problem may be money. The campaign has about $20,000, compared with $500,000 for Mr. Rangel. His Assembly colleagues have largely declined to endorse him.

Read the full story at the New York Times.

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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