Ackerman disputes decision to shutter House

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U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) strolled down Bayside’s Bell Boulevard last Thursday afternoon, clutching a large cup of coffee to ward of the October chill and leisurely chatting with constituents as they walked by.

After last week’s Capitol Hill anthrax scare and the U.S. House of Representa­tives’ decision to send legislators to their home districts to work while U.S. senators remained in their Washington, D.C. offices, Ackerman had time to kill.

“From a public relations point of view,” Ackerman said last week of the House decision to shut down, “it looked like cutting and running.

“One of the reasons I came out here today is that we’re supposed to go on with our business,” the congressman said as he shook hands with constituents on Bell Boulevard. Ackerman represents a large area stretching from Bay Terrace and parts of Flushing in Queens out along the north shore of Long Island to the middle of Suffolk County.

Weeks after the Sept. 11 destruction of the Twin Towers, the city is reeling since four separate cases of anthrax have been diagnosed in people who either worked for or visited the Manhattan newsrooms of the New York Post, NBC, ABC and CBS. Anthrax spores were also discovered in the governor’s Midtown offices.

A particularly potent form of anthrax was also sent in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), which set off the scare on Capitol Hill.

While Ackerman, the dean of the Queens congressional delegation, said he disagreed with the decision to close the House of Representatives, he also said he “would not criticize them for that.”

The longtime Queens rep said by the time the Senate made its decision to stay and work in its Washington offices “1,500 of their staffers had already been tested” for anthrax exposure. The House did not have the same opportunity for environmental or medical testing, Ackerman said.

During the morning last Thursday Ackerman made conversation with people walking on Bayside’s “Main Street” outside the Long Island Rail Road station. Most of the talk centered on the anthrax scare gripping the country.

“You have to be prudent,” Ackerman told people. “You just have to use common sense: if something looks questionable, report it, don’t touch it. After a while we will do these things instinctiv­ely.”

But Ackerman also warned of the dangers of taking the antibiotic Cipro unnecessarily to treat anthrax.

“You don’t take medicine for a disease you don’t have,” he said. “It’s not an immunization, it’s a treatment.”

Ackerman emphasized the importance of moving forward with life even amid fears of bioterrorism.

“These guys are clever,” he said. “They want to stop our American way of life. I think we’re not going to surrender to that.”

The congressman admitted, however, that “it would be foolish not to be concerned.”

As he walked down Bell Boulevard Ackerman noticed the ever-growing Bayside Kiwanis Club’s 9-11-01 memorial board on a fence overlooking the Bayside LIRR station on Bell Boulevard.

Since the large board was erected last month, passersby have left pictures of missing loved ones, messages of praise and thanks for city firefighters and police officers, poems and drawings inspired by the World Trade Center disaster.

“This is great,” Ackerman said he read the messages. “It helps us understand the dimension of the tragedy and how people are affected.”

Grabbing a pen, Ackerman momentarily put aside his coffee cup to sign the board.

“Thanks and God Bless You,” he wrote.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

Updated 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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