After a nine-month investigation into alleged ethics violations against Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-California), the House Ethics Committee has released its report. The committee has found that the Congresswoman improperly used her office to assist OneUnited, a Massachusetts-based bank, in receiving $12 million in federal bailout funds in December 2008. Her husband, Sidney Williams, owned stock in and served on the bank’s board of directors from January 2004 to April 2008. The Congresswoman now stands charged with violating three rules – one that requires its members to “behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House”; a second that prohibits lawmakers from using their influence for personal benefit and a third forbidding their using their office to dispense favors.
The developments in this case are making for tough decisions for the Congresswoman and fellow Democrats as Congressman Charlie Rangel (D-New York) faces his own ethics trial in the weeks leading up to a very difficult mid-term election season. The Congresswoman like Congressman Rangel has vowed to fight the charges in a House Ethics Committee trial.
Both Rangel and Waters are expected to win re-election, Rangel to his 20th term and Waters to her 11th. Their decisions to stand and fight have much broader ramifications outside of Harlem and Watts. As far as the mid-term elections are concerned, Republican strategists are poised to paint already vulnerable Democrats with the broad brush of unethical behavior. Many Democrats are fearful that two ethics trials of prominent Democrats so close to the elections will weaken their chances in swing districts, costing them the House and possibly the Senate. Others are concerned that the racial dynamic (Rangel and Waters are both African-American) could muddy the deracalized political efforts of the president.
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Congressman Rangel and Congresswoman Waters have been true public servants and have served their districts well. Both have committed themselves to defending the interests of minorities and the poor in America’s urban centers and across this country as a whole.
During his almost 40 years in the House, Congressman Rangel co-authored the five-billion-dollar Federal Empowerment Zone demonstration project to revitalize urban neighborhoods throughout America. He authored the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, which is responsible for financing 90 percent of the affordable housing built in the US in the last ten years. He also championed the Opportunity Tax Credit, which provided thousands of jobs for underprivileged young people, veterans and ex-offenders.
During her 20 years in office, Congresswoman Waters has led the fight against the importation of crack cocaine into America’s inner cities, police brutality and predatory lenders. She has fought to provide funding for job-training centers in Watts and protect and enhance consumer and business access to credit. She has led the fight for children to have a right to adequate housing and championed the rights of those with HIV/AIDS and those suffering with Alzheimer’s disease.
In spite of his outstanding record of service and in light of his pending trial, some are calling for Rangel to step aside. On Friday, July 30, President Barack Obama called ethics charges against Representative Charles Rangel “very troubling.” In stead of remaining neutral, respecting the constitutionally guaranteed presumption of innocence, and allowing the process to run its course, President Obama, as he did with Mrs. Sherrod, jumped the gun by saying he hoped the lawmaker could end his career “with dignity.” To date, no one has gone on record suggesting Congresswoman Waters step aside.
Only Congressman Rangel and Congresswoman Waters really know their guilt or innocence. Politicians tend to be very proud people with relatively large egos. Do they fight for their political lives, win re-election and possibly further cripple an already damaged party or step aside, take one for the party, leaving their constituents without the representation they have come to expect? “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16: 18-19)
As dedicated public servants they have to consider what is best for the people they’ve been elected to represent. As political animals, they have to consider what is best for their party. Do they fight and win the personal battle, but possibly lose the political war? Tough times require tough decisions.