East Harlem Assembly Member Adam Clayton Powell IV, a scion to the Powell political family, announced his campaign against the Harlem lion Rep. Charles Rangel April 12.
Amid chants of “change is coming,” the five-term Assembly member kicked off his campaign on the neighborhood’s “lucky” corner: East 116th Street and Lexington Avenue, where he announced his first campaign for office in 1989. He unsuccessfully challenged then-Council Member Carolyn Maloney for her seat.
But Powell is hoping for a different outcome against Rangel, who is serving his 20th term in a district that covers Harlem, Northern Manhattan and a swath of the Upper West Side down to West 89th Street.
“Everyone knows change is coming. The question is, when,” Powell said. “We’ll be more than happy to honor the past but we must turn the page and invest in the future.”
Powell called his run for Congress a natural progression for someone in elected office for 20 years, first in the City Council then in the Assembly. He also dismissed the idea that he is trying to settle a score against Rangel, who ousted Powell’s father from a Congressional seat in 1970.
Indeed, the race is being billed as “Shakespearean,” though Powell said that “this is not about the Greek tragedy that the media loves about revenge.”
Powell’s father, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., was first elected to the Harlem seat in 1944. By the 1960s, he was missing votes and accused of corruption. The senior Powell was under investigation by the House Judiciary Committee and the House barred him from holding his seat. But Powell sued for his seat, and the Supreme Court sided with him. He even tried for another term in 1970, but an ambitious Assembly member, Charles Rangel, attacked him for missing key votes, and beat him. In 1994, the younger Powell challenged Rangel, who beat him comfortably.
In the current race, the younger Powell has emphasized the need for new leadership in Congress, and cited his accomplishments in city and state government.
“I think my record is clear. The people of my district know me,” Powell said. “Many of them know of my service and my record. They know my legacy.”
But Powell has also had recent problems as well. Earlier this month, he was found guilty of driving while impaired on the West Side Highway, stemming from a 2008 arrest. During the trial, jurors saw a police video of Powell taking sobriety tests and admitting that he was not “drinking that much.” He was found not guilty of drunk driving.
“Did you see the video? Did I appear to be impaired?” Powell asked at his campaign kick off. “The fact is I was completely fine.”
Powell’s challenge comes on the heels of ethical issues for Rangel. In February, the House ethics committee said the Congressman accepted corporate-funded trips in violation of House rules, and an investigation into tax issues continues.
Other challengers have emerged since the Rangel investigation started, including two Democrats—community banker Vince Morgan and Joyce Johnson—and local minister Michael Faulker, who is running as a Republican.
Kevin Wardally, Rangel’s campaign manager, said that delivering services and funding to the district has earned the congressman goodwill with his constituents.
“When he talks about that as he goes around his district and lays out exactly what he’s done time and time again,” Wardally said, “I think the people of the district will reward him with re-election.”n
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