Rangel ally Inez Dickens makes the case for his seniority, and innocence

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Rep. Charles Rangel did not attend the candidate forum held by the Barack Obama Democratic Club last night on 155th Street. But Inez Dickens, a councilwoman and Democratic district leader from Harlem, spoke on his behalf.

Dickens said the 81-year-old congressman who is recovering from back pain "indeed is going to come out, probably after Easter" and "be out next week to campaign," she said.

That would be Rangel's first public appearance in nearly two months.

Dicken's speech focused on Rangel's work to ease the tax burden on the poor, boost economic activity by creating empowerment zones and expand access to affordable housing. She also stressed Rangel's intention to seek a full term in office, saying he had no intention of belatedly withdrawing his candidacy in order to give a leg-up to a chosen successor.

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A young man in the audience asked why Rangel should be "trusted" after he was found guilty of violating a dozen House ethics rules in 2010.

Dickens responded that it was the investigation, rather than Rangel's behavior, that was at fault.

"I think history will prove that for most of what was done against him was unconstitutional and illegal," Dickens said. "A lot of what was done is now being found out to probably be against the people of this great country and even though he has had this difficulty and has had this censure, he is asked to give his input because of his knowledge, because he has served for so long."

Dickens did not elaborate on what exactly was done to Rangel that might have been unconstitutional or illegal.

She also said the seniority of the 21-term congressman enables him to do what others can't, thanks to the seniority system in the congress.

"In Washington, like it it is on all three levels—because the same thing is in the City Council—that seniority is what rules. When you first go down to Washington, just like when I first went down into City Hall, no one gives you any information. You're not even given the best committees to serve on" and "you get no assistance and without the seniority you are unable" to bring back as much for your district.

"You don't get the opportunity to negotiate until you have seniority," she said.