10:15 am Mar. 19, 2012
On February 24, at 11:57 a.m., Geoff Eaton picked up his telephone, dialed a 917 telephone number and had a conversation that lasted one minute and 56 seconds.
Eaton was calling a woman who has worked in Harlem since the mid 1990s, is active in political circles there, and whom he considered a friend. The woman, who asked me not to use her name, recalled the conversation to me recently.
"He wanted to confirm whether I was indeed raising money for Joyce Johnson," she said, referring to one of Representative Charlie Rangel's possible Democratic opponents in this year's election. "That's what I remember his words to be."
"I actually offered him a reason why and he gave me a non sequitur," she said.
She said her reason was that Rangel, who is African-American and seeking his 22nd term in office, did not denounce public reports that his colleagues were attempt to tailor his district's lines to facilitate the election of an African-American successor. The woman, who is not African-American, said she was offended by the report and also thought it was time for the 81-year-old Rangel to retire.
Eaton, she recalled, was polite and the conversation was friendly.
But the call was made from the Adam Clayton Powell Jr., State Office Building, on 125th Street, Suite 737: Rangel's congressional office. Eaton is Rangel's deputy chief of staff. The woman he called that day had long ago plugged Eaton's work phone number into her cell phone. (She has worked in the public sector for years.)
Congressional resources aren't supposed to be used for campaign-related activity.
At a recent fund-raiser for Joyce Johnson, this person approached me, opened her phone and showed me the record of Eaton's call to her. I took a photograph and later sent it to Rangel's spokeswoman, Hannah Kim, for comment.
Kim emailed to say, "It shouldn't have happened and we are handling this matter internally."
This is not the first time Eaton has reached out to Johnson's supporters. Before a fund-raiser last month, two Johnson fund-raisers received the email from Eaton:
ARE YOU GUYS SUPPORTING THIS PERSON OVER MY BOSS? PLEASE CONFIRM!
In 2010, a House ethics panel convicted Rangel of 12 counts of violating congressional ethics rules for failing to disclose income on rental property he owned and improperly raising money for a school to be named in his honor. Rangel easily won re-election over a crowded field of challengers that year.
This year, his opponents include Johnson, whom the Times endorsed in 2010, former staffer Vince Morgan and, possibly, former presidential aide Clyde Williams. Also considering the race is State Senator Adriano Espaillat.
CORRECTION: As noted below, the number of terms Rangel has served has been changed.
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