By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
readers of this column know my long-standing friendship with Gary
Ackerman, the congressman whose newly redrawn district has him again
representing primarily Queens constituents.
– a child of Queens – and I attended Queens College together and began
our friendship way back in 1962. As I continually remind anyone who knows
us both, Gary is much, much older. Actually, it was Gary’s younger wife
Rita who was a classmate of mine and also a friend for the past four
Gary is the ranking member of the Middle East subcommittee of the House
International Relations Committee. As a matter of fact, after this
election, Gary – who was elected in 1981 – will be seniority-wise,
pretty close to the top 10 percent of the 432 member House of
Representatives. That’s pretty heavy duty for my friend from Queens.
Should the Dems retake the majority in the House, Gary becomes a true
powerhouse and could be flirting with the chairmanship of the House
Foreign Relations committee.
Schenkler and Ackerman
40 years later
a longtime friend, I can tell you that Gary is liberal — perhaps the
word “progressive” has politically become
a less controversial descriptor. But we are children of the 60s –
Gary, Rita and I were exposed to education and politics in a time and
place, which gave birth to a movement that changed this nation. We
traditionally oppose war and promote freedom. We are for civil rights and
oppose oppression and force. My column last week told of one of our Queens
College classmates, Andrew Goodman, who gave his life in Mississippi in
1964 during Freedom Summer. We are to the left of center.
I was somewhat surprised when earlier this month, Gary and his friend Mike
McNulty – congressman from the Albany area – were hanging out one
evening in my office discussing their plans to vote in favor of President
Bush’s Iraq resolution. My liberal friend Gary endorsing war?
the same political roots, his wife Rita did not surprise me when she
informed me of her email to Gary encouraging him to oppose war in Iraq.
Sharing with you the thoughts of my friends who are in the epicenter of
the decision, which may send our sons and daughters off to war might prove
helpful to the critical debate. Rita’s email and Gary’s letter
responding to her follow:
Rep. Gary Ackerman
From: Rita Ackerman
I couldn’t sleep last night I turned to CSpan to pass the time.
Listening to the replay of the debate in the Senate and the House I came
away with my own conclusions. There’s little doubt in my mind that
Saddam has to go, but I think it’s horrific that Bush has boxed you in
with the need for urgency. But by going along with his agenda, you’d be
just as guilty of politicizing this grave decision. A vote against the
resolution would not negate our need to take action, but it does preserve
the integrity of a vote based on sound reason and not on the possible
fallout on Nov. 5 [Election Day]. The resolution is too broad and Congress
gives up too much power to participate in this war process. We know why
Bush is in a rush and to go along with that, in my opinion, would be for
all the wrong reasons. I remain, your respectful, favorite constituent who
wants you to vote “NO” at this time.
My Dearest Constituent:
you for your thoughtful and deep-felt encouragement of a “no”
vote on the proposal to authorize the President to use force, if
necessary, in the case against Saddam Hussein.
empathize with your loss of sleep, as I too have found this a restless and
troubling issue, quite vexing and complex on the morality, on the
justification, on the ramifications, on the timing, on the strategy, and
on what you so articulately address, the politics.
participate at any time, in a decision to put the lives of young Americans
at risk is the antithesis of what lured me, drove me, to Congress. It is
what neither of us is about. I will cast that vote with a hand that
trembles, with a heart that aches, with a conscience that is troubled, but
also with a mind that is clear.
much thought and study and agonizing, I have satisfied myself using every
argument I could conceive or that has been suggested, that in authorizing
the President to use force, if necessary, to remove from a murderous
tyrant the tools of mass destruction will save more lives by a multiple
factor than might be lost otherwise.
dictator we face is fully prepared to use unthinkable chemical, biological
and excruciatingly painful weapons to annihilate hundreds of thousands of
people. And he is predisposed to use those weapons. There is almost no
controversy about this.
continue to work the U.N., as it is of critical importance to do this as
part of an international effort, so as not to give license to any nation
or people that anyone can preemptively strike another because they
unilaterally believe they have that right. We will work harder, and I
believe the world body will be supportive. They will not vote unless we
vote first. Many nations, especially those in the region, cannot publicly
commit (as they have privately) unless we show our resolve. This will be,
if force be needed, a multi-national effort. The difference between
Hussein and others who have weapons of mass destruction, is that while
they may be very bad, he is evil. And he indeed is preparing to do
something terribly, terribly evil. Of that be confident; but not of the
timing. I’ve said as much as I can on that.
brings us to our timing, your chief complaint and my great frustration.
remains in my mind little doubt that the President and his party greatly
benefit by doing this now. It “changes the subject” and deflects
public attention from the mess at home. They have tried to make Democrats
look weak on national defense and raised questions about the patriotism of
any who might challenge their decisions. Politicizing the issue is an
attempt to take sole possession of the flag. All this to immunize
themselves from criticism. To stifle public debate is the goal of tyrants,
a constitutional breach for which I cannot forgive those in D.C. who lead
even the politicization of an issue so serious as the empowering of the
President to use force, if necessary, to rid the world and ourselves of an
evil threat, must not deter me, and us, from doing what we believe must be
the President’s strategy has us “boxed in.” Yes, it is too bad we
don’t have the luxury of time to do a better job getting the
international ducks in a row. Yes, it’s frustrating when your party is
handicapped in its ability to fight back by the self-imposed constraints
frustrating when you know things that aren’t to be known by others, when
those who have chosen you to exercise your best judgment on their behalf
then question their choice and threaten to replace you, when those you
love come to thoughtful but different conclusions and urge you to do
things you cannot.
the President is right on the merits, though pitifully wrong on the
politics. The urge to fight the latter, though strong and necessary, must
wait for its day. To rebuff the President on the decision to confront what
is a very serious threat to our country would do damage to our ability to
coalesce the international community to more openly support our effort
(which, again, I believe will happen) and send the wrong signal about our
resolve, causing Saddam Hussein to make more grave miscalculations, and
jeopardizing our ability to eliminate this threat in the least painful
evil must be confronted early, history tells us, if peace is ever to have
spent the early hours of this morning with the Secretary of Defense at the
Pentagon in an attempt to see if there was a possibility that I might be
wrong about the intent and threat of the Iraqi regime. Photos and facts
sadly confirm the dilemma we face.
a proclivity towards pacifism, with a philosophy that war is a defeat for
a civilized process, with two fighting-aged sons that I love, with a
constituency that seems to demand a different conclusion, with my life’s
partner urging otherwise (the greatest angst of all), I nonetheless
concluded that I would not be true to myself or my sworn obligations and
my belief in all of the above if I do not cast my vote with an
Administration that I generally distrust.
is not a happy vote.
Call For Miller Time
are not frequent in Queens, but when we have them, they can be beauts.
the granddaddy of all Queens scandals: Donald Manes as Village Voice
scribe Wayne Barrett described it in the title of his book “City For
Sale.” There were several interrelated corruption misdeeds that were
uncovered at that time. But since those terrible days of the mid 80s,
Queens government has for the most part been scandal free except for
occasional rumor — some pretty juicy.
2000, the disclosure of a computer purchasing scam in Queens School
District 29 again shook the City.
Miller, then-superintendent of District 29, along with her husband William
Harris, developer Thomas Kontogiannis and two others were indicted for bid
rigging and bribery to acquire three NYC Board of Education contracts
worth more than $6 million to supply computers to the School District.
Miller received bribes including four houses with a total value of almost
week, the “gang” which deprived the school district kids from
utilizing properly functioning computers finally pled guilty. Miller
acknowledged defrauding the City, the Board of Ed and therefore the kids
out of more than $5 million.
plea agreement calls for restitution of $4.85 million over six years which
will, according to Schools Chancellor Klein, be put back into the
if we understand it all correctly, Miller, Kontogiannis & Co. ripped
the kids off for more than $5 million. Over six years they are repaying
less than $5 million and no one is going to jail. That’s right, reports
have the gang that stole from school kids not going to jail and paying
back less than they stole.
wonder what lesson about crime the kids in District 29 will learn from
from schools and go free?
we didn’t oppose capital punishment, we’d be advocating that the
Superintendent, who betrayed her trust, be hanged in the morning. The
developer, turned computer gangster, should be stripped of all his wealth;
the attorney, disbarred; and the whole damned lot of them ought to spend
the rest of their lives deprived of computers or anything
computer-assisted or generated.
the punishment fit the crime. We’re outraged.
by Dom Nunziato