Majority in boro council delegation favors Iraq war

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As war with Iraq grew closer, the city council resolution against the looming military action sounded as conflicted in its final version as the Council vote itself.

The majority of the overwhelmingly Democratic Queens delegation voted against the resolution.

By a vote of 31-17, the Council resolved March 12 to oppose “a pre-emptive military attack on Iraq unless it is demonstrated that Iraq poses a real and imminent threat to the security and safety of the United States or its allies or unless all other options for achieving compliance with United Nations resolutions calling for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction and the means for their development have failed.”

The allowance for some military action was a result of a months-long battle within the Council on the wording of the resolution, first introduced by Councilman Bill Perkins (D-Harlem), which initially opposed any war without UN authorization.

Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village), the lone Republican from Queens in the Council, called the battle over the resolution’s wording ironic.

“When it came to an 18.5 percent property tax increase, we had no such hearings on the floor of the City Council, and that’s something that is under our jurisdiction and should have been debated,” said Gallagher.

Among Queens’ 14 members of the Council, nine said “no” to the measure and five cast votes in favor of it.

Opposing the resolution were Gallagher, Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), Tony Avella (D-Bayside), Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights), Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), David Weprin (D-Hollis) and Allan Jennings (D-Jamaica).

Jennings’ “no” vote was not officially entered in the final tally because he did not register his vote in the official record after the voice vote.

Voting “yes” were Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Eric Gioia (D-Woodside), John Liu (D-Flushing), Hiram Monserrate (D-Corona) and James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton).

The resolution itself acknowledged the importance of the large antiwar demonstration in Manhattan Feb. 15, but Queens’ council members had their own rationale for their votes either way.

“I didn’t feel the United States, being the most powerful country in the world, should unilaterally declare war on a country without the support of other nations,” said Comrie. “It’s not the best posture for the United States to take to bully people.”

Some of those who voted “no,” like Avella, thought it was wrong for the Council to even take up the issue.

“I wasn’t elected to deal with foreign policy,” said Avella, who added that he was personally against a war without U.N. support.

Weprin, who received more calls from constituents against the resolution than for it, said he would have voted “no” anyway.

“I really don’t think the president or Congress is waiting to see what the City Council thinks,” said Weprin. “We don’t have access to the same information.”

Liu agreed the resolution was “way beyond the scope of the City Council” but voted for the resolution because “I don’t think the Bush administration made a solid case for why we need to send our young men and women across the ocean to fight in this war.”

In the heated arguments over the Iraq resolution, some lawmakers invoked the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 as a reason to take action against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Others denied any connection between the two.

“We’re four blocks away from the World Trade Center site where 3,000 people lost their lives and some of my colleagues had said that we’re not threatened in any way,” said Gallagher, referring to the Council chambers at City Hall. “It’s just unbelievable to me that they would truly believe that.”

Sanders, a Marine Corps veteran, voted for the resolution.

“Our volunteer army is primarily composed of working-class and poor youth,” he said. “It seems that we’re sending someone else’s children to do the fighting and the dying.”

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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