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Scion of Harlem congressman to challenge Rangel

Associated Press | 4/13/2010, 10:29 p.m.

NEW YORK - Adam Clayton Powell IV, a state assemblyman and son of a legendary New York political figure, announced Monday he would seek the seat his father once held and challenge veteran Rep. Charles Rangel, who stepped down last month as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee amid ethics charges.

Powell, 47, said he honored Rangel’s 40 years of service but that it was time for new leadership for the 15th District, which covers much of Manhattan’s Harlem and Upper West Side neighborhoods.

“Everyone knows change is coming. The question is when?” Powell told reporters at a news conference at a Harlem intersection he referred to as the “lucky corner.”

Powell’s late father, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., was a Harlem pastor and well-known political figure who represented the district in Congress from 1944 until 1970. He was New York’s first black congressman.

Powell Jr. was removed from office in 1967 amid allegations he had misused congressional funds. He ran again and won the seat in 1968 before losing to Rangel in 1970.

Rangel relinquished his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee in March after being admonished by a congressional ethics panel for taking corporate trips to the Caribbean in violation of House rules. Rangel has said he was stepping aside only temporarily, but his diminished clout on Capitol Hill helped draw a challenge from Powell and at least one other candidate, 40-year-old Vincent Morgan, a banker who once worked for Rangel.

The primary is Sept. 14.

“The fact that he is no longer chairman of Ways and Means is significant. If he were still chairman, I might not be running,” Powell said.

Powell badly lost a primary challenge to Rangel in 1994. He denied he was seeking the seat as a way to avenge his father’s legacy.

“This is not about settling any score. This is not about a Greek tragedy the media loves, about revenge,” Powell said.

The district, long a political power base for New York City’s black community, has seen a marked demographic shift since Rangel was first elected. It now has a much larger white population and is nearly half Hispanic.

Powell said those changes could help his candidacy. He was born in Puerto Rico and speaks Spanish fluently.

Powell also claimed that Rangel did not intend to serve a full term if re-elected - that he would resign his seat after the election and appoint a successor. “That would be the height of an undemocratic process,” Powell said.

Rangel’s campaign manager, Kevin Wardally, denied Powell’s claim and noted that under New York law, the governor would call a special election if there is a congressional vacancy.

“[Rangel] can’t just hand it to someone. That’s not the way it works,” Wardally said.

Powell has dealt with controversy of his own. He was arrested in 2008 for driving under the influence of alcohol and had his license suspended. A jury acquitted him last month but found him guilty on a lesser charge of driving while impaired.

Powell was also investigated, but not charged, in connection with two sexual assault allegations in 2004.

Associated Press