It is a saga that makes following politics so delicious. The irony of history playing out in front of us right now.
In 1970, a young 40-year old upstart named Charles Rangel, defeated a Harlem Legend, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
Forty years later, Powell's son, New York State Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell, IV is trying to do the same to the man who beat his father. Powell is challenging the current Harlem institution, Rangel, for the very Congressional seat that Rangel has held for four decades. The race comes as Rangel faces a potential ethics trial in the House, accused of 13 ethics violations that has caused some politicians, voters, and even President Obama to suggest it is time for Rangel to finally hang it up. The president said Rangel should "end his career with dignity."
"When I get elected to Congress, I will actually be doing Rangel and the Democrats throughout the nation a favor," says Powell, "because my election will probably put an end to all the ethics trials that Mr. Rangel faces and probably put an end to Republicans being able to use Congressman Rangel as a punching bag in the November election."
For his part, Rangel has dismissively called Powell "a nice fellow. He used to be a nice young man. I think God has really blessed him with his good looks and his dad's name, and then God gave up on him."
Veteran Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf observes that the contest "is absolutely personal" between Rangel and Powell, "whether they realize it or not." He says "Powell wants Rangel and Rangel wants to swat Powell. It is just that simple. Why? Because 40 years of history isn't a long time."
Rangel has easily won re-election in years past, and has much of the Democratic organization behind him, despite the ethics charges. When he voted this morning at his Harlem polling place, there were reports that the election workers applauded him, a clear violation of the supposedly independent stance that should be taken by the non-partisan employees of the New York City Board of Elections.