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Boro leaders debate shutdown of House

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With House leadership enduring major criticism for closing early last week in response to the discovery of anthrax spores on the Senate side of the Capitol building, borough representatives offered a fractured front on whether they considered the decision to have been the most appropriate one.

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) said she believes it is important to show determination against the country’s enemies by continuing to work while taking precautions against the threat.

But Maloney did not want to criticize House leadership, a stance that was shared by U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), who nonetheless acknowledged that closing was a poor decision.

“From a public relations point of view, it looked like cutting and running,” he said.

U.S. Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), Nita Lowey (D-Rego Park) and Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) supported the closure as an appropriate response to the anthrax scare.

“You’re always striking a balance between not giving into fear and being respectful of the threat to our health,” Weiner said in an interview after speaking with local schoolchildren last Thursday. “We’re trying to strike that balance, frankly.”

A spokeswoman for Lowey said the congresswoman thought the House decision to close “was a prudent precautionary measure.”

Meeks issued a press release last Thursday in which he said the world had changed after Sept. 11 and the nation must now “take error on the side of caution.

“Thus the decision of the House of Representatives to adjourn for five days is just a precaution.”

Although U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) said he supports the House leadership, he is recommending that the representatives never again leave Washington if the Capitol is further compromised.

“We have to show that people’s business goes on regardless,” he said, suggesting the House could meet in a gymnasium or conference center.

After the House shut down last week, local delegates returned to Queens in their quest to educate the public about the nation’s war on terrorism.

Maloney made her point on the floor of the House the evening before it closed, where an out-of-character outfit allowed her to bring a glimpse of the Taliban to Washington.

Standing on the House floor late in the evening on Oct. 16, Maloney urged the administration to continue helping “the innocent people of Afghanistan,” especially the women whose human rights are severely limited by the Taliban regime.

To illustrate her point, she donned a burqa, “an expensive, heavy and cumbersome garment” Afghan women are forced to wear to mask their skin.

“The veil is so thick that it is difficult to breathe,” Maloney said before the sparsely attended session. “The little mesh opening for the eyes makes it extremely difficult to even cross the road.”

Her face and body entirely hidden behind the fabric of the burqa, which provides a narrow mesh panel across the eyes, Maloney enumerated many of the “unfathomable” restrictions on women’s freedom in Afghanistan.

Weiner brought lessons to two public schools and a senior center in Glendale and Middle Village, where he explained to his audience what the government was doing to help New York rebuild from the terrorist assault — including the allocation of $20 billion in federal aid to the city.

“That is 20 with nine zeros at the end,” he told the group of eighth graders who gathered for his presentation at IS 119 in Glendale.

Speaking to a group of fourth- and fifth-graders at PS 87 in Middle Village, Weiner empowered the students to do their part in the war by refusing to allow threats to affect their lives.

“They just want to scare us, and if we don’t let them scare us, if we go about our business . . . then they won’t succeed,” he said.

The students, although unaware of the House shutting down, had heard enough reports about anthrax to be concerned about its impact on their own lives. For those who would begin to feel achy or ill in the upcoming months, Weiner offered an early medical diagnosis to set their minds at ease.

“You probably have a cold, you probably have the flu,” he said. “You don’t have anthrax.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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