Rep. Rangel to face challenge from former campaign director

Embattled Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) will face a 2010 primary challenge from one of his own former campaign directors.

Vince Morgan, a New York community banker who once worked for Rangel as a special assistant and subsequently as a campaign director, announced Monday that he would challenge Rangel for reelection.

Morgan’s announcement follows months of ethical scrutiny surrounding Rangel’s alleged failure to pay taxes on income from a villa he rents, in addition to several other accusations of financial impropriety against the congressman.

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“It's time for change,” Morgan said Monday in a press release. “Our district needs new leadership that is in touch with the community and the issues that confront us today.”

While Morgan’s barebones website makes no mention of the cloud that has hung over Rangel, the challenge comes on the heels of a tough week for the longtime incumbent. Rangel survived an effort last Wednesday by Republicans to strip him of his position as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, but now faces an even more expansive inquiry from the House ethics committee.

Rep. John Carter’s (R-Texas) bid to force Rangel out of the plum position was defeated in a 243-156 vote when the House voted to refer the measure to the ethics panel, effectively killing it. But the vote suggested Rangel’s political base was beginning to show cracks.

Six House Democrats voted “present” on the maneuver to refer the GOP resolution, and two Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Gene Taylor (Miss.) and Travis Childers (Miss.), both specifically voted against the move at different stages.

House Democratic leaders have backed Rangel pending the results of the ethics committee’s investigations, but last week’s vote showed some signs of fissure among the party’s rank and file.

Rangel is also coming under pressure from outside Congress.

Liberal pundit Arianna Huffington, the founder of the left-leaning Huffington Post, said Sunday during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) should force Rangel out of his chairmanship as soon as possible.

At the same time, Rangel maintains strong backing from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). In a letter to Pelosi last week, the group pressed the Speaker to stand behind Rangel while the ethics committee completes its work.

“He has our full support for his work as chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means while a bipartisan ethics review is pending,” the lawmakers wrote.

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Rangel is a founding member of the CBC and represents one of the most historic African-American congressional districts in the country.

He has represented New York’s Harlem neighborhood in Congress since 1971, and has won his district — currently New York's 15th — overwhelmingly during the past few election cycles. Rangel has received only token Republican opposition.

Rangel has not received a primary challenge in the heavily Democratic district in years.

On his website, Morgan, who according to his campaign biography served as campaign director for Rangel’s 2002 reelection bid (in which the congressman was sent back to Washington with almost 89 percent of the vote), focused not on Rangel, but bread-and-butter issues like employment and healthcare.

“The 15th district deserves good leadership,” he said in his campaign announcement on Monday. “I hope voters will unite and empower me to be their voice in Washington.”