If you lived with someone for 42 years, you know their habits — and secrets. Maybe that is why beleaguered New York Congressman Charles Rangel withdrew his divorce action against his wife on the same day he confessed his tax dodges in the Dominican Republic.
As the New York Post reported, the famed silver-haired Harlem Democrat filed for divorce from his wife, Alma, on Feb. 13, 2007. He had wanted the case brought before a jury, which was to be selected this week.
So not only did he withdraw from the divorce proceedings but he also agreed to pay $5,000 in back taxes on his Punta Cana Yacht Club retreat, one of the financial entanglements that got him into recent trouble.
The House ethics committee is probing other financial improprieties with Rangel. He blamed his problems on his wife, Alma, a former social worker, 77, who took care of the family finances. He said he was too busy focusing on politics.
The blame-the-wife tactic seems to be an umbrella defense, but that doesn't mean controversy will not continue to rain down on the congressman.
When the Post reached his wife by phone, Alma Rangel denied any marital strife. The congressman then picked up the other line and shouted, “Stop calling!”
“There is no divorce,” Charles Rangel bellowed. “Whatever differences that I've had with my wife have been reconciled.” Rangel hung up, but his missus stayed on the line denying the split.
“I don't know anything about that. My husband is here, and we still live together,” she said. “We have two children and three grandchildren.”
Then Rangel, who is also the chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, picked the receiver up again and hollered, “Hang up the phone, Alma!”
Raoul Felder, a famed divorce lawyer who is not handling this case, said, “The bottom line is that, when it's an election year and there's an investigation going on, you don't want an ex-wife floating around.”
Felder also surmised why Rangel had wanted a jury trial for his divorce.
“I guess he figured he'd do better with a jury,” Felder said. “Celebrities do very well with juries.”
Rangel's ethics problems began last year with a report saying he had used House stationery to solicit donations for a Harlem college center. A separate report in July said that Rangel was paying below-market rate on four rent-controlled apartments in Harlem.
And on Aug. 31, The Post called attention to thousands of dollars in unreported income that Rangel was collecting by renting out his Dominican beach house. An exclusive Post photograph, which caught the portly pol basking on the beach at the villa, prompted his wife to tell him, “You know, you're fat,” he admitted this week.
Fat with cash obviously, and perhaps hubris.
Rangel's longtime chief of staff, George Dalley, told The Post last month that the congressman was too engrossed in politics to be bothered with family finances. “Alma's the person who's handled the family finances,” Dalley said. “Mr. Rangel himself has never actively engaged in the finances.”
At least one of the couple's disagreements has spilled out into the public arena. In February, after the congressman threw his weight behind Hillary Rodham Clinton for president, Alma announced her support for Barack Obama.
We're happy for Alma that her husband realized what a true asset he had in his wife.