Rangel talks about his absent father, but not his villa

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At a press conference in front of City Hall today where he picked up the endorsement of Rep. Jose Serrano, Rep. Charlie Rangel was asked if his strong advocacy of Puerto Rican issues was "because you are half Puerto Rican."

Rangel, seated on a stool, said he never knew his father or where he was from, but that he has "gone to Puerto Rico to check it out … many times".

Rangel said his last name is popular in South America, "but if you go to Spain, strangely you don't find it there. If you go to Porutgal, you do."

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The congressman said a few words in Spanish, and then said to Juan Manuel Benitez of NY1 Noticias, "I thank you for bringing it up."

The 81-year-old Democrat is being challenged by three Democrats in the June 26 primary, including State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who is vying to become the first Dominican elected to Congress. Rangel's upper Manhattan district now, for the first time, extends into the Bronx and has a majority of Latino residents.

Today's endorsement was billed by Rangel's campaign as a sign that "Rangel Solidifies Latino Support."

But the warm, chummy attitude with reporters was briefly extinguished when blogger-gadfly Rafael Alequin Martinez asked, "Do you have a Villa in Santa Domingo, or just a little house?"

The villa is actually located in Punta Cana, two hours away.

"I don't have anything in Santo Domingo," Rangel, smiling stiffly, told Martinez.

City Councilman Robert Jackson then started yelling, "Charlie Rangel is the man!" and a group of construction workers standing behind the congressman starting chanting also, and Rangels' campaign manager then signaled the press conference was over.

Walking away from City Hall, Martinez approached Rangel and expressed remorse for asking about the topic. Rangel replied, "You should, you should."

Rangel earns money by renting that property, but he failed to disclose the income on his federal disclosure reports, leading to his public censure by the House in 2010. At the time, Rangel blamed it on sloppy bookkeeping, and also on his inability to understand Spanish.

As for Rangel's rebukes to reporters go, the exchange today was pretty mild. He told off Luke Russert for asking a "dumb" question, and got a little testy during a 2006 interview with me. And he reserved a special disdain for the Times' David Kocieniewski, who broke many of the stories that led to his censure.