Dave Durenberger to Charlie Rangel: Don’t make us do it

A brief personal aside. A few days, when noting that former Sen. Dave Durenberger was narrating radio ads for his former aide, now guv candidate Tom Horner, I noted in passing that Durenberger hasn’t engaged in much public political work since his own Senate career “crashed and burned” over ethics violations.

I heard privately from a couple of Durenberger’s long-time aides who found my bluntness unkind. I didn’t mean it that way.

Anyway, in his occasional email publication “Commentary from Dave Durenberger,” the former senator wrote a brief open letter to Charles Rangel, advising Rangel to make some kind of plea agreement to avoid a public House ethics trial on the charges against him.

The letter, while public, is also deeply personal and poignant, coming as it does from Durenberger, who went through a painful and humiliating Senate hearing on his own ethical offenses. The hearing ended with a 96-0 vote by his colleagues to “denounce” him for conduct that brought ”dishonor and disrepute” to the Senate. He makes no mention of this in his poignant letter to Rangel, but it is abundantly clear that Durenberger is speaking from the deepest of personal experience, about what he wishes he had done back then and about what his life has been life since. Here’s the letter, in full:

Everyone who knows you loves you. You are fun to be around. Your heart is in your constituency and your pride is in your work. During nearly 50 years in Congress and 20 election campaigns it is possible you lost the ability to distinguish between the means and the ends of your public service.

These are subtleties the best of friends notice, but we don’t. If you spend enough time and rise to enough power, you become the “everyone” in “everyone does it” behavior around private contributions and public favors. Pretty soon you become the definition of ethical behavior and then, as now, Charlie, it’s too late.

I hear you are worried about your legacy. “I want people to know who Charlie Rangel is,” you are quoted as saying. No one wants the cloud of their departure from 40 years of effort to define their “legacy” – as in the New York Times obit or your tombstone. It’s especially hard on you when you think of your children, your grandchildren, and theirs. Charlie, that’s not the way it is.

People who are important to you already know who you are. They will define you in terms of what you mean to them. In what it means to them to be family, friend, the recipient of the work of one of your caseworkers. Or the day you went out of your way to touch a life that changed without your even knowing it.

If you go home right now Charlie, there won’t be a day in which someone won’t stop and thank you for something you or someone in your name did for them. I guarantee it. That’s the value of the office you’ve been given by the people of your district. Cherish it. It’s as hard on them watching you go thru congressional trials as it is on you. Don’t make us do it.


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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 08/16/2010 - 06:03 pm.

    I believe that none of the allegations in Rangel’s case involve actual criminality. Mr. Rangel wants his name cleared in open and honest discussion that may or may not end up with him being censured or punished in any way by the House.

  2. Submitted by John E Iacono on 08/17/2010 - 10:47 am.

    Last I heard, if I failed to report a quarter million dollars of income the IRS would disagree with Bernice…

  3. Submitted by Joe Williams on 08/18/2010 - 10:29 am.

    It always blows my mind. An elected official gets accused of unethical behavior, their response is one of defiance. Look at the Bell, CA City Council, Rod Blagojevich, and now Charlie Rangel. I have never held office, but it seems like it should be an extremely humbling experience, guilty or not. Do I misunderstand something?

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