By Alex Davidson
U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) faced a barrage of questions about his decision to support the conflict in Iraq during a town hall meeting in Fresh Meadows Sunday where he was introduced himself to new constituents in his district.
After giving a brief update on the situation in the Persian Gulf, Weiner opened up the meeting to questions and immediately faced residents' concerns about the timing and reasons for the war.
“It seems to me this is a war for oil,” said Rachel Gallop, a professor of history and women's studies at Queens College, who said the large military budget should be cut to fund domestic programs. “We should be spending that money on education and health care.”
Weiner listened as two other constituents asked him why he voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq. He took some time to listen to his new constituents' concerns, then explained to the audience of 30 at the meeting why he approved the measure.
“I don't believe Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat when we attacked, but the events of Sept. 11 showed we didn't do a good enough job of gauging who our threats were,” Weiner said. “Sometimes, the authorization for the use of force is a way to avoid the use of force.”
Weiner told the audience that the casualty rate among soldiers in armed conflict has been steadily falling and that in the last Gulf war, one in 1,500 soldiers was killed during combat, which was down from one in 15 during World Wars I and II. He said the public's ambiguity about this war has been reflected in the ups and downs of the stock market.
Several other residents questioned Weiner on the city's health care system, school reorganization and other local problems in the 9th Congressional District. Weiner said he is the third representative for Fresh Meadows in 30 years, meaning when the federal government redraws congressional districts every 10 years, the local residents have to get to know a new legislator.
Weiner also discussed the city, state and federal economy and its impact on his congressional district, which covers the communities of Bayside, Fresh Meadows, Richmond Hill, Howard Beach, Rockaway and Forest Hills. He said the lack of funding for social programs in the city and state reflected the federal tax cut that has led many government agencies to shrink their programs.
In the end, Weiner discussed the role terrorism will play in America's future. He responded to audience questions about whether there is a connection between Saddam Hussein and terrorist networks and addressed speculation about the Iraqi leader's role in sponsoring suicide attacks.
“There is no connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda,” he said, referring to the terrorist group believed to have launched the Sept. 11 attacks against U.S. targets. “But Saddam has paid the families of suicide bombers.”
Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 156