CaribWorldNews, WASHINGTON, D.C., Weds. Mar. 3, 2010: Under pressure over accepting trips to the Carib News Business Conference for two consecutive years, New York Congressman, Charles Rangel this morning announced he was taking a leave of absence from his powerful committee chairmanship.
Rangel, considered by many to be a friend of the Caribbean, announced Wednesday he will temporarily step down as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. At a news conference this morning, the Harlem congressman, facing much criticism since the ethnic committee ruled last week that he violated standards of conduct by accepting 2007 and 2008 trips to Caribbean conferences that were financed by corporations, said he was stepping aside for now since he didn`t want his ethics controversy to jeopardize election prospects for fellow Democrats.
`My chairmanship is bringing so much attention to the press, and in order to avoid my colleagues having to defend me during their elections, I have this morning sent a letter` asking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi `to grant me a leave of absence until such time as the ethics committee completes its work,` the 79-year-old twenty term congressman said. His deicsion came just a day after he defiantly insisted he would not walk away from the post.
His leave of absence comes as Republicans and some Democrats had been calling for Rangel to step aside. Rangel has insisted he did nothing wrong and said he didn`t even have `constructive knowledge` of the corporate sponsorship of the trips and couldn`t be held responsible for something staff members may have known but which he didn`t.
The annual Caribbean Business conference is presented by the New York Carib News and its founders, Karl and Faye Rodney, who are financed by several corporate sponsors including airlines and tourist boards.
At the 12th annual `Caribbean Multi-National Business conference,` which was held in Antigua in November, 2007, more than 300 participants from across the United States and the Caribbean attended even as the island`s Prime Minister, Baldwin Spencer, was quoted by the Carib News as saying: `We achieved our goal of making ourselves better known to corporate executives, elected members of federal, state and local government bodies in the United States and to others interested in economic and social development of our Caribbean region and, of course, Antigua & Barbuda.`
At the same time, he added, much like the series of key meetings in Washington in 2007 when Caribbean Presidents and Prime ministers, including himself, met with U.S. President George Bush, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and key leaders of the U.S. Congress, led by Congressman Rangel, Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives, Bennie Thompson, Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, Chair of the House Ethics Committee and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Business Conference underscored the need for the Caribbean nations to reach out more to the elected officials who comprise the U.S. House and Senate.
Congressman Rangel had said then that once again the Business Conference had provided its participants, including the Congressional delegation, with an opportunity to sit down and discuss matters of mutual interest with our closest neighbors in the Caribbean.
`The Caribbean nations are our friends and we must respect their rights and listen to them,` he was quoted as saying, even as the paper pointed out that he has attended most of the conferences since they began more than a decade ago in Jamaica, followed by sessions in Barbados, St. Lucia, the U.S. Virgin islands and other venues in succeeding years.
Eric Eve, Citigroup`s then Senior Vice President of Community Relations, had attended the conference too, and told guests at a luncheon session that the large international financial services company was reaching out to Caribbean nations in order to do more business and was focusing some of its energies on Caribbean immigrant communities across the United States.
`We are seeking to do business with the Caribbean,` he was quoted as saying
Also in attendance, was Ed Goldberg, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for Macy`s, who reportedly echoed similar sentiments.
The conference`s presenter, Karl Rodney, was quoted as saying then that the presence of members of the Congress and New York State and City elected officials and the `important role played by our corporate partners and participants were `key to the conference`s success.`
Meanwhile, the ethics committee is looking into Rangel`s fundraising for a college center to be established in his name, in addition to other allegations – including belated financial disclosure filings that showed he previously failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in investments.