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Long Life to Charlie Rangel

So the Democrats will have Congress. Time will tell whether they will seek to undo six years of George Bush and Dick Cheney. But don't the donkeys have as much pent-up blather and pandering as the party of Mark Foley?

One result of the Democrats taking the house of Representatives hits home: Harlem congressman Charlie Rangel will assume the chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee -- for which he has been waiting for thirty years. But earlier this year, perhaps in a moment of despair, the 76 year-old Rangel said that if the Democrats did not take the House, he would retire.

Oh, No!

Now Charlie Rangel isn't our favorite politician by any means, but his continued presence does keep Virginia Fields out of elective office. Were he to retire, Harlem could experience a sea-change in the political line-up.

Some see Fields as the natural successor to Rangel's seat (and held by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. until 1972). Fields is considered a political protege of the Harlem clubhouse whose powerhouse members include Rangel , former mayor David Dinkens, Basil Paterson and Percy Sutton.

But Rangel is quite spry for his 76 years and he may stay in Congress as long as the Democrats hold on to the majority and even then until they carry him out on a stretcher. No one expects him to retire any time soon, which of course means C. Virginia Fields just sits and waits.

When Rangel does retire, there will be plenty of competition for his seat, including a flock of up-and-coming politicians of the next generation -- now ranging from their 30's to early 50's.

- Bill Perkins was just elected to the New York State Senate seat that Fields had coveted. He's not going anywhere soon, but could run for Congress when the seat opens.

- Assemblymember Keith Wright is ensconced in his seat, but some see him also wanting the Rangel seat.

- Not to forget Assemblymember Adam Clayton Powell, IV, who could come back from relative obscurity to claim what he will undoubtedly characterize as the family seat (he had unsuccessfully challenged Rangel for the seat in 1994).

And that's just the established politicians. Younger hacks in their 30's are also testing the political waters.

So Virginia Fields may not have a lock on the seat if and when it opens up. Moreover, she's getting older, and older and older. She has been out of office for over a year and that's a lifetime in politics. People forget who you are.

From her two recent campaigns, she may not have the proverbial fire in the belly. She may not be able to garner union and political club support, and most importantly, she may not be able to raise the cash for what would be a nasty primary.

Of course stranger things have happened. Some of us remember that Dick Nixon came back in 1968 after losing to Kennedy in 1960 and the California Gubernatorial race in 1962. Vigilance is needed.