Profiting from a small moment in the political history of the Rangel district

Charlie Rangel greets volunteers at Harlem Hospital. (Via Rep. Rangel's flickr stream.)
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Charlie Rangel may have had his reasons (namely, fund-raising) for making a big deal of the news that one of his prospective 2012 challengers recently conducted a poll in the district. But he was right to mark the poll as something of an occasion.

The survey was commissioned by Clyde Williams, a former political director for the Democratic National Committee, and it appears to be the first time in years that a challenger to Rangel has polled in the district.

Rangel has held the seat for 40 years, since defeating incumbent Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Since then, he's faced mostly token opposition until 2010, when four Democratic opponents ran against him, hoping to capitalize on his presumed weakness stemming from his ethics violations in Congress.

None of them polled, though.

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"A consultant suggested that I do one," said Joyce Johnson, a business executive active in Democratic politics whom the Times endorsed  last year.

In an email, Johnson said, "I chose to spend funds on visibility and voter contact. Plus, I know the district, know the people, and have a good pulse about general voter feelings."

Vince Morgan, a community banker and former Rangel aide who ran last year and is interested in running again next year, emailed, "We know what a poll would say… People are open to a new Congressman."

Looking ahead to the next year's race, Morgan said he hasn't conducted a poll yet "because we do not know what the district lines are (redistricting) and when the Primary election date is. I think a poll of likely voters should be conducted right after petitioning to be most valuable."

Former assemblyman (and the son of the man Rangel unseated) Adam Clayton Powell IV, is apparently the last challenger to have polled in the district. He told me he paid Penn, Schoen & Berland $20,000 for a poll in 2004, but finally opted not to run.

"It showed Rangel was just too strong," Powell told me. "I wasn't ready to take that gamble." Powell would have had to give up his Assembly seat in order to run.

In 2010, he didn't poll because, he said, "I was going to run no matter what."

He's considering running next year, and said he "might do a poll just for information, but not necessarily for viability."

Labor activist Jonathan Tasini, who ran last year, emailed in response to my question about whether he'd ever polled to say, "No we did not. simple reason: MONEY."

In his fund-raising email, which was sent to supporters yesterday, Rangel suggested that by discussing his poll with the Daily News but not disclosing its provenance, methodology and findings in their entirety, Williams may be violating the "spirit" of a state law requiring the disclosure of polls once they're publicly made known.

"I hope that he complies with the spirit of the New York State Fair Campaign Law and releases the poll in its entirety so that we can see the questions," the congressman wrote.

The word "hope" is appropriate here, since the state law is pretty much never enforced.

I reached out and asked Williams' people if they'd show me the poll. They declined. They also haven't released the results to any other media.

CORRECTION: Tasini has no plans to run in the primary next year, contrary to an assertion in the original post.