Updated 8:05 p.m. ET
NEW YORK - Texas Gov. Rick Perry got an unexpected welcoming party when the GOP presidential candidate arrived in Harlem today: Longtime Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel.
The wily Democrat, who has represented the largely black and Latino neighborhood for 42 years in the House, startled reporters waiting for Perry when he turned up outside Papasito's Bar, where the governor was scheduled to meet local business readers. Wearing a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin, the congressman insisted that he "had no idea it was a Republican event."
Tongue remaining firmly in cheek, he continued that he felt he should be on hand because he understood that "one of the community leaders had invited a distinguished guest - to my city and specifically to my congressional district."
Rangel made plain, however, his view of that "distinguished guest."
"I think that the Republicans have a major problem with their candidates," he said of the GOP presidential field.
Does that include Perry?
"You bet your life," Rangel said, adding with a laugh: "I think he's the best thing going for President Obama, but I'm a Democrat."
As to whether Perry's overture would be effective in a district that Obama won in 2008 with 93 percent of the vote: "Aren't you here to figure out what the governor is doing here? Aren't you?" he asked reporters. "I'm here for the same reason."
Rangel arrived just a few moments before Perry, who was quickly whisked inside after telling reporters only that he was there to "see more supporters here." The event lasted about 30 minutes. Lenin Lopez, who runs a café on the same block as Papasito's, said he was one of about 50 people in attendance. Lopez said Perry largely spoke about taxes and employment, as opposed other issues facing the community, such as lack of health care. Lopez added that while it was nice to hear Perry speak, most of his listeners were Democrats.
Still, event organizer Fernando Mateo said it was "historic that Perry would come up here instead of staying in midtown or Wall Street." Mateo said it was the first time a presidential candidate had come up to Inwood, at the far northern tip of Harlem, and that he supports Perry for president.
Rangel left the event, where he kept unlikely company with the New York's Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox, and Charles Glazer, a top fundraiser for former President George W. Bush, before it was over. When asked what he thought of meeting Perry for the first time, he laughed, He's tall and he's from Texas, that's clear."
In a statement released later by his office, Rangel blasted Perry's "frightening" record of executing his constituents," a reference to Perry's record as the governor who has sent the most convicts to the death chamber than any other, and "calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme.
"The governor could come back to our district anytime he wants," Rangel added, "because his visit only reinforces the need for us to rally around the president's plan to reduce the deficit in a fiscally responsible way."
Perry is in New York to shake the money tree. According to Business Insider, which scored copies of the invites, the governor was to headline a $2,500-a-plate fundraiser Monday at an upscale new Columbus Circle development hosted by real estate and investment moguls, including Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, of AIG (in) fame. On Tuesday, the website reported, Perry attends a $1,000-per-head luncheon at the Harvard Club.