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Our History Challenged House of Representatives

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Jerry Waxman

All during the mid 1960’s through the early 1970’s life was pretty carefree in this country. We had a thriving economy and the Cold War kept our military machinery humming right along. Our investment in NASA was paying off handsomely and our exports were outperforming our imports. Occasionally there were protests about Vietnam or nuclear weapons though they were not given serious treatment until the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.  We thrilled at Israel’s victories because we had both Saudi Arabia and Iran in our back pockets and nobody else in the Middle East mattered. We twenty-somethings had graduated high school and college during the conformist years of the Eisenhower Administration and on into the Camelot years of JFK.  We knew all about “Duck and Cover”, teenage drinking, R&B, The Blackboard Jungle and other cultural things because we had experienced it firsthand. Sputnik was launched when I was in 10th grade. Francis Gary Powers U-2 spy plane was shot down when I was a senior. In college we witnessed The Berlin Wall, The Bay of Pigs fiasco and The Cuban Missile Crisis. If we couldn’t avoid the draft we joined the Reserves or the National Guard.

None of this made a huge impact on my crowd. It was just Cold War business as usual. We were all working and making (for that time) good money. On the summer weekends we travelled to Atlantic City and nearby environs (Somers Point, NJ a la “Eddie and the Cruisers”) for lots of fun in the sun. The Harlem Club on Kentucky Avenue in Atlantic City was the midnight starting point of our revelry which ended at around 7:00 AM at the Dunes in Somers Point. In between there were lots of other bars. If we were hungry (and sober) enough it was back to The Harlem Club for its Breakfast Show. Drummer Chris Columbo’s quintet was the popular band and drew the biggest crowd. The one number that drove the crowd wild was the Len Barry and the Dovells hit “You Can’t Sit Down”, which Columbo retitled NAACP (this was during the height of the Civil Rights movement). In this case the acronym was not for the organization; Columbo explained, it stood for “Never Antagonize Adam Clayton Powell”.

Okay, it’s a long prologue but I think you might be getting the point. Powell was the charismatic and controversial US Congressman from New York City whose district included Harlem. He was first elected to congress in 1944 and served until 1970 with a little time off for being expelled. He became chairman of the powerful Education and Labor Committee and used his power to enact social legislation in large numbers. In one legislative session alone he steered 50 bills out of committee to final passage. This was during JFK’s New Frontier and LBJ’s Great Society days. He was a force to be dealt with.

He was expelled from congress in March 1967 for allegations of corruption. Not to be taken lightly he won reelection in 1968. He did pay a fine and he lost his seniority but he was reseated in congress and he is still regarded as a hero in New York. I could give you dozens of footnotes on him and his career but I’m not going to. Your homework is to research him yourself. His declining health after 1968 affected his attendance and in 1970 he was no longer the force he had been. He lost in the primary to a Korean War veteran named Charles Rangel.

No matter what congress did to Powell he ultimately prevailed. The same will happen with Rangel. If he chooses to run again he will win because he’s loved in his district and he’s still an effective legislator. Over a forty year period there’s bound to be several incidents in his career that could be questionable, and yes they should be fully investigated. Charlie Rangel will ultimately come out on top, and the members of the House need to be reminded of Adam Clayton Powell’s legacy because it will surely come back to haunt them.

All of a sudden prominent conservatives like William Kristol and Mitch McConnell are advising their minions to keep quiet about this and let the process wind its way to completion. They know that their side has a much more serious ethics problem and they surely don’t want to completely open that Pandora’s Box.


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