BATTLING OVER PEACE, L.A. COUNCIL SPLITS ON WAR RESOLUTION
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
Los Angeles, Calif.
February 18, 2003
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 18, 2003 -- What can you say about a peace resolution that died?
This variant on the famous question that opened Erich Segal's best-selling book "Love Story" probably did not occur to the 13 members of the Los Angeles City Council after it failed to make up its mind on the hefty issues of war and peace today, but then, the anticlimactic end of an ideological battle over whether or not to back military action against Iraq left almost no one satisfied.
"I think it will come to a vote, but I can't promised it will be resolved," said West Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss, a former Deputy U.S. Atty. who sponsored a resolution with two other council members to receive and file two combined resolutions on the war. That motion failed, too. Weiss originally opposed the two motions because they brought the making of foreign policy within the scope of council business.
Los Angeles would have been the largest of some 92 cities across the nation that activists say have endorsed a resolution appealing to President Bush not to start a unilateral war against Iraq. The list includes Detroit, Atlanta, Chicago and Cleveland. A similar resolution is reportedly under consideration in New TYork City, too.
Councilman Eric Garcetti, whose Hollywood district saw tens of thousands of antiwar protestors march in its streets last Saturday, said the defeat of a measure he co-authored with Councilwoman Ruth Galanter of the western San Fernando Valley was "a procedural issue" and claimed a victory in hearing most of his colleagues endorse his own strong stand against any unilateral declaration of war against Iraq, if not his resolution.
The Garcetti-Galanter motion, combined with another sponsored by Councilmembers Tom LaBonge and Janice Hahn and requiring eight votes for passage, failed by a vote of 7-6. The matter will be taken up again on Friday, when absent East Los Angeles Councilman Nick Pacheco may show up to cast the eighth and deciding vote.
It also appeared that other council members may alter their positions to change the outcome when the issue is heard again. The measure could not be reconsidered Tuesday because a motion for reconsideration must be made by the prevailing side, "and there is no prevailing side," Council President Alex Padilla reminded several members. One, Valley Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, recited a page-long list of city issues that the body still needs to address, none of which involved U.S. foreign policy.
On a day when the council could not agree to veto a risky $1.87 million unsecured loan from its municipal water utility to build electric scooters in Hawaii even after its own advisors recommended against it, and had some 53 other items to consider from a variance for a 44-foot housing project to street closures for Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremonies its inconclusive debate on the Iraq war did excite a standing-room-only crowd of peace activists who followed one another to the speaker's lectern in almost unanimous condemnation of the war and with ringing endorsements for the Garcetti-Galanter motion.
Two activists had to be escorted from the council chambers when they spoke without first being recognized by the council's presiding officer.
Garcetti distinguished himself as a speaker today. In a rhythmic cadence drawn from an older tradition of debate, the liberal Democrat and college professor evoked some of the potential local losers in an Iraq war - the hotel workers stranded when tourism falls, the baggage handlers laid off when airlines go bankrupt, the office commuters hurt by soaring gasoline prices that have reached $2 a gallon in many California cities.
"But the moral voice should not be absent," Garcetti continued, mentioning the many local pastors and rabbis who have come out against the war here, and then critiquing the President's "strategic" tactics, citing a conservative analyst, Dr. John Mearsheimer of Ohio State University, "who believes that Saddam and Osama bin Laden can be contained without war." According to Mearsheimer, "the link between them is flimsy," Garcetti said.
Garcetti's comments, Weiss said later in the debate, persuaded him the charismatic young councilman "will one day be making foreign policy decisions." It seemed to be a prediction that Garcetti will one day be president - coming from someone whom some think may one day be mayor.
Another councilmember moved by Garcetti was the author of the rival motion, Councilman Tom LaBonge, who stood up to talk about the place where former President Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Prize and ended up supporting his rival's motion.
"Where was he given the Nobel Prize? It was in the City Hall in Oslo," said LaBonge, who misplaced Oslo in Sweden, not Norway. LaBonge said there was no reason the council, which has addressed matters ranging from the former South African apartheid regime to Latvian independence, could not also take on the war.
With his palms upraised, LaBonge then announced "I am going to support the Garcetti-Galanter motion," drawing a long round a loud round of cheers and applause. The crowd also cheered Councilman Nate Holden of South Los Angeles when he told the council, "We are sending the wrong message. We are not shooting from the hip, we are shooting from the lip!" and reminded them he is also a sponsor of the measure.
Just as as lustily, the activists booed west San Fernando Valley Councilman Hal Bernson, prompting a call for order from Padilla, when he said, "Just remember what would happen if you were on the other side," in Iraq, and tried to speak out against the war. "
"If our country had to depend on people like you, God help us," Bernson said.
Picking up on a theme raised by former Screen Actors Guild president Ed Asner, Bernson responded, "I remember 7 million Jews being exterminated by Hitler, just as Saddam has exterminated tens of thousands of his own people," referring to the rebellious Kurdish people of northern Iraq.
"Mr. Asner said he can't imagine Saddam marching into Poland like Hitler," Bernson added, referring to the actor's earlier comments. "I don't think they imagined it, either."
But Bernson and fellow San Fernando Valley Councilman Dennis Zine were the only two voices raised Tuesday in support of President Bush's vow that America would go to war against Iraq alone, if need be. There appears to be little likelihood of that since Great Britain, among other nations, has committed itself to a U.S.-led coalition, but that point didn't get debated today.
Zine, a reserve police officer, former leader of the powerful Police Protective League and the council's only Arab-American - he proudly mentioned after the debate that he is being honored this evening by a Jewish synagogue in his district - recalled that one of his fellow police officers, Sgt. Gary Levy of the LAPD's South Bureau traffic unit, is being shipped out as a Coast Guard reservist and deserves his community's support.
"I see him being shipped out to Afghanistan, I see him being shipped out to Iraq, I see him being shipped out to 'an undisclosed location,'" Zine said, underscoring the fact that hundreds of city employees have been called up to serve in the war against terrorism.
And, more tellingly, Zine pointed to the long list of Los Angeles-area liberal Democratic members of Congress who had voted in support of the war resolution adopted by the House and Senate last month, including Rep. Henry Waxman of West Los Angeles and Valley Congressman Howard Berman, both highly-regarded liberals who share the concern of their Jewish constituents that Israel may again become a target for Iraqi missiles.
"I'm angry at our Members of Congress," declared Councilwoman Jan Perry, who backed the Weiss resolution but declared herself an ardent foe of the proposed Iraq war. Also backing Weiss was Padilla, the tall, mild-mannered MIT engineering grad who is the council's permanent chair.
"They ask us to support our troops even before a single shot is fired," argued David Clennon, star of tv's "The Agency," told the council during public comments before the council's debate.
In a fiery speech, Clennon said that American soldiers fighting in Iraq could end up as war criminals. "I believe this war ... will be a crime against humanity," he said, and urged the council to adopt the Garcetti-Galanter motion "before they commit acts that they will regret for the rest of their lives."
There was eloquence on both sides of the red velvet rope that separates the public and the council members Tuesday. Some of it came from a black World War II veteran, Eugene Knox, who reminded the council of his generation's sacrifice and its resolve when coming home to help America.
Today's politicians, Knox said, "are ignoring the duty of what they should be doing," he said, "and that is keeping the peace."