Why did Rangel deserve a censure instead of a reprimand? Several circumstances increased the gravity of his offenses.
First, he originally came to office as a reformer. In a 1970 primary, he defeated incumbent Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. mainly because of Powell’s corruption. When the New York Post ran its famous cover photo of Rangel lounging outside his Dominican Republic beach home, readers with long memories could recall Powell’s days on the island of Bimini. Rangel had become what he had once opposed.
Second, he represents a poor district. When his own constituents were struggling to find affordable housing, some wondered why he was taking four rent-stabilized apartments at discounted rates from a well-connected developer.
Third, he fiddled with his taxes while chairing the committee that writes tax laws. Officials must be especially scrupulous about the issues under their jurisdiction, which is why illegal-alien issues doomed the nominations of Zoe Baird for attorney general and Linda Chavez for secretary of Labor.
Republicans should take no satisfaction in Rangel’s downfall. In the recent past, some in their ranks got into ethics trouble, too. During the past four years, their powerlessness was a form of ethics protection: They simply weren’t worth bribing. When they resume control of the House in a few weeks, the old temptations will return. So when they watched Rangel stand in the well of the House today, they should have seen him as a warning.