Eliot Spitzer, the attorney general whose everyday agenda is framed by gubernatorial ambition, went out of his way on the eve of the war to endorse it, joining the ranks of New York’s Bush League Democrats. Four days before the first missiles were fired, Spitzer’s top spokesman told the weasel-walloping Post that the AG “supports the Bush administration on the use of military action to remove Saddam Hussein, and he would like to see it done as soon as possible.”
The Post presented Spitzer’s statement—as well as even stronger words from Comptroller Alan Hevesi—as a rejection of the official position of the state Democratic Party, which adopted a resolution opposing a “pre-emptive war” last September, reaffirmed in a press release on March 13 by party chair Denny Farrell. While Spitzer refused to elaborate on his comments in a Voice interview, his likely Democratic opponent, Andrew Cuomo, did not hesitate.
“I disagree with what Bush did,” said Cuomo in a Friday morning interview. Pointedly making statements supportive of the troops, Cuomo said the Bush administration “used the tragedy of 9-11 to justify their act, taking the anger and channeling it into a war on Iraq. How do you get from 9-11 and Osama to Saddam? There’s no logical connection, no logical synapse. On September 10, there was no discussion of Saddam.” The former HUD secretary who pulled out of the gubernatorial race in 2002 predicted the war would do “reputational damage” to the U.S. that will “take decades to resolve.”
“If you didn’t believe in the United Nations, why did you go? Why the pressing timetable?” Cuomo asked, adding that the refusal to wait 30 or 60 days “made no sense.” Cuomo also fears that the war will give “radical groups who have radical capabilities” a new “rationale or rallying cry” against America. “Why did you feel it was necessary to pay that price?”
Spitzer and Hevesi, both of whom managed to run last year without ever making a comment on the war, echo the position of the other two statewide elected Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, who voted for the Senate resolution authorizing war last October. While all six of the city’s black and Latino representatives in the House voted against that resolution, Jerry Nadler, whose district includes ground zero, was the only white member of the delegation to oppose it. Manhattan’s Carolyn Maloney, Brooklyn’s Anthony Weiner, the Bronx’s Eliot Engel, and Queens’s Joe Crowley and Gary Ackerman backed the war, as did the only Republican from the city, Staten Island’s Vito Fossella.
The resolution they voted for cited 9-11 in five justifying clauses and warned that Saddam might “launch a surprise attack against the U.S.,” concluding that the war was “consistent with the necessary actions” the U.S. was taking against “nations, organizations or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided” 9-11. Nonetheless, Clinton said on the Senate floor, before she voted for the resolution, that there was “apparently no evidence of Saddam’s involvement” in 9-11, and warned that attacking Iraq “alone or with few allies would set a precedent that could come back to haunt us.”
In a conclusion that may haunt her, Clinton said: “Even though the resolution is not as strong as I would like in requiring the diplomatic route first, I will take the president at his word that he will try hard to pass a UN resolution and will seek to avoid war.” Though she claimed she wasn’t voting for “pre-emption or unilateralism or the arrogance of American power—all of which carry grave dangers for the rule of international law,” the most she would say the day the war started was “I think everybody wishes we had more international support.”
Schumer supports this war though he voted against the 1991 Gulf War resolution, when he was a Brooklyn congressman and Saddam was sitting in Kuwait. Along with then U.S. senator Pat Moynihan and eight other House Dems, Schumer favored economic sanctions, opposing a war that had broad international support (and the New York City votes of only Ackerman and Engel). “In the post-9-11 world, inaction is not an option,” Schumer contended during the House debate last October. He and Clinton even voted against a substitute resolution introduced by Michigan’s Carl Levin that would have allowed Bush to go to war only as part of a UN force, requiring that he come back to Congress if that failed. Schumer did back—and Clinton opposed—another amendment that would have limited Bush to taking action against Iraq only if it represented an “imminent” threat.
But Schumer praised Bush’s saber-rattling State of the Union speech in January as “rousing,” even proudly telling reporters that he and the president exchanged winks during it. In early March, before Bush reneged on his vow to go back to the UN, Schumer urged the administration “to wait a little to get as many allies as possible.” Asked if the U.S. should go ahead if it can’t enlist more allies, Schumer told The New York Times “I am not president. I think you cannot say yes or no.” Those were his final words on the subject.
The state’s other powerful Democrat, Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver, has been silent on the war, though he did nothing to support a detailed anti-war resolution circulated by Brooklyn assemblyman Jim Brennan and signed by 23 other Democratic members. Brennan sent the resolution to all assembly Democrats on February 27, and Silver never signed it. State Senator Tom Duane was also supposed to circulate the resolution, but didn’t.
City Council Speaker Gifford Miller bottled up an anti-war resolution in a council committee for nearly five months, but then signed on to a milder version in February, helping to steer it through by a 31 to 17 vote. Miller’s East Side mentor Maloney continued to back the war in a Voice interview last week and two other East Side Democrats, Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz and Assemblyman Jonathan Bing, ducked the resolutions in their houses. Should Mike Bloomberg—who also never took a position—bow out after one term, Miller may well wind up running for mayor against City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who has yet to say one word about it. Adamantly pro-war congressman Weiner is also a possible candidate.
Queens councilmembers David Weprin and Melinda Katz, who led the fight in the council against Miller’s tepid resolution, are already maneuvering to succeed him should the courts deny him a chance to extend his term past the end of this year. While a sense-of-the-body resolution on war isn’t usually a measure of a mayor or speaker, the disproportionate impact of this war on the city, increasing the threat to it and diminishing federal resources needed for its recovery, makes the issue as much a municipal matter as it is a moral test.
Research assistance: Cathy Bussewitz, Alexa Hinton, Felicia Mello, Solana Pyne, E.B. Solomont, Steven I. Weiss