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Brooklyn lawmakers begin new posts in the United States House - Dems now rule the roost after sending Republicans packing

The war in Iraq, increasing the minimum wage and working on immigration and health care issues are the top priorities for Brooklyn’s elected delegation as the nation’s 110th Congress opened in Washington, D.C last week. The mood of most of the lawmakers interviewed was euphoric, considering that both the House and Senate now have Democratic majorities. Kings County has the greatest number of registered Democrats of any county in the country. “I think the American people clearly asked for change and that means we will have to get something done,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner, who is beginning his fifth two-year term. Weiner said that under the leadership of the new speaker, Nancy Pelosi, the house will work in a bipartisan effort that will not seek to settle scores, but rather to solve problems. In speculating why the Democrats did so well in the recent election, Weiner said that obviously the American people’s dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq played a major part. “There’s only one person in Washington [President Bush] who thinks things shouldn’t be changed,” said Weiner. Weiner said he supports Rep. John Murtha’s resolution calling for a phased withdrawal as soon as possible. This includes moving troops from the center of Baghdad and the Suni-Shia conflict to seal off the borders of Iran and Syria, he said. While Bush has executive power over the troops as Commander-In-Chief, Congress will not rubber-stamp a foolhardy position and does have power of subpoena, hearings and articles of inquiry, Weiner said. Weiner said while he is still interested in running for mayor, he hasn’t opened any campaign committees. “Any success I have politically relies on my doing a good job at the one I’ve got. I can do a good job on delivering for New York here and I’ll be working on that every day,” he said. For freshman Rep. Yvette Clarke, who won a hard-fought, four-way race to succeed retiring Rep. Major Owens in the 11th congressional district, life in Washington involves a learning curve. “It’s great just being here at such a historic time and adding to the energy of getting things accomplished on behalf of the district and by extension, the nation,” said Clarke. Clarke said being part of a large freshman congressional class brings a fresh energy to the body politic. In regard to helping Brooklyn and her district, Clarke said she is just now getting a better understanding of access to information and committee structure to help her navigate on behalf of her congressional district and address such issues as affordable housing and more economic opportunity. Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez hit the ground running, introducing a legislative package to address a number of ongoing concerns that New York City families and small businesses have been faced with over the past several years. These initiatives are aimed at improving the health of residents, expanding access to affordable housing and technology, as well as cleaning up areas throughout the city, she said. “For the past six years, the needs of our families and small businesses have been overlooked by the current administration and Republicans in Congress – as a result, communities have been left behind when it comes to accessing a healthy, quality lifestyle,” said Velázquez. Among the highlights of the legislative package are ensuring access and educating constituents about a healthier diet, and creating vehicles to revitalize “distressed” HUD-owned properties and keep those buildings affordable, as well as providing support for units undergoing repairs. Additionally, Velaz-quez’s legislation package will expand access to telecommunications services through an increased broadband network in working-class and poorer neighborhoods, and offer Brownfield reform legislation to utilize the latest technology to further rehabilitate Brownfields. “This legislation is an important step toward improving the well-being and vitality of our residents,” said Velazquez. “From expanding dietary options to helping low-income communities and cleaning up valuable areas of land throughout our neighborhoods, this will truly make a difference in enhancing the quality of our everyday lives,” she added. Karen Johnson, the Brooklyn chief of staff for Rep. Ed Towns, said her boss is very excited about the Democratic Congress. He will serve on the subcommittees on health, and telecommunications and the Internet, and will chair the subcommittee on government reform, Johnson said. “He [Towns] plans on being a very aggressive chairman. He’s also very concerned about port security, which is an oxymoron because there is no port security in that only a small percentage of cargo gets checked,” said Johnson. Johnson said the 22-year congress member has waited 12 years for the Democrats to again gain the majority, and he plans to make the most of it. “He believes that in this historic election the voters entrusted Democrats and asked for a change in new direction,” said Johnson adding that universal health care, making prescription drugs cheaper and education more affordable will top his agenda. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who has been in office since 1992, said the feeling on Capital Hill among Democrats is euphoric. However, Nadler said he remains skeptical that bipartisan politics will rule the day in Washington. “Right now the two parties are farther apart than anytime in our history with the exception of the 10 years before the Civil War,” said Nadler. Nadler advocates a pullout from Iraq and feels the minimum wage should be raised with a cost of living index. In other words, when the cost of living goes up, the minimum wage should go up to that amount, said Nadler. Additionally, Nadler feels that Congress needs to get serious about affordable housing and community development. Nadler, who will chair the subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, also supports immigration reform that cracks down on controlling the border and employers hiring illegal immigrants. However, there needs to be a clearing in the path to citizenship for the 12 million people here illegally who are hardworking and have already paid their dues, he said.

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