The Times, Trenton

Anti-War Protest Misses Its Target

Smith away at the time of 'Iraq Summer' rally

The Times of Trenton — Wednesday, August 8, 2007


HAMILTON — Nearly two dozen anti-war protesters held a rally here yesterday hoping to greet Rep. Chris Smith at his office and make their opinions on the war heard.

The rally, which was held outside Smith's Hamilton office in the 90-degree weather, was part of a multimillion dollar national campaign called "Iraq Summer."

Protesters held signs saying "Support the troops ... End the war" and pasted a picture of Smith on a makeshift giant milk carton with the word "Missing" emblazoned above Smith's portrait. The reference to ubiquitous missing posters on milk cartons was meant to suggest that Smith has been absent when it comes to addressing the concern for bringing home the troops and ending the Iraq conflict.

Organizers hoped to catch Smith on his return from Washington for the summer recess, but he didn't show up.

"Iraq Summer" has been organized by Americans Against Escalation in Iraq and local groups such as NJ Citizen Action.

Organizers and constituents here emphasized that they felt Smith has been "missing in action" on this issue and has failed to respond to their concerns.

"He doesn't want to hear from anyone who disagrees with him," said Ann Baker, who was against the war from the beginning and lives inside Smith's district in Roosevelt.

Several people at the rally said they were surprised that Smith, who has been a champion of human rights and veterans' benefits, continues to support the war.

Reached by phone, Smith said he favors an Iraq pullout without specifying a timeline.

"My position couldn't be clearer," Smith said. "The sooner our men and women are out of both Afghanistan and Iraq, the better."

Smith has repeatedly said he is not in favor of announced timelines for leaving Iraq, but rather a closely guarded and secret exit strategy.

Art Kleiner, who lives in Lawrenceville, which is represented by Democratic Rep. Rush Holt, confronted Smith's scheduler, Candice Mueller, and demanded to know where the congressman was.

Mueller, who offered the protesters water in yesterday's heat, insisted that Smith hears the concerns of his constituents.

"He is not hiding his views on the war," said Mueller.

But when Eve Weissman of NJ Citizen Action asked if Smith would attend a town hall meeting on Aug. 28 to engage in a dialogue over the war, Mueller was noncommittal.

"We have the invitation," she said.

Weissman said she is disappointed that to date Smith has refused to meet with the anti-war groups.

She said, "How many times do we have to stand out here?"

Weissman said that Rep. Mike Ferguson, another Republican lawmaker who has supported the war, has met with the group at least once.

Smith again characterized the anti-war effort here as "an orchestrated effort with a great deal of money behind it."

He said, "I'm not moved by that kind of effort at all. I'm moved by persuasion and my eyes and ears are open to new ideas. I've heard these very same ideas before."

David Rebovich, a professor of political science at Rider University, chalked Smith's moves up to politics.

He said that Smith may have made a "reasonable political calculation" that he doesn't need to engage in these conversations now, given that he won easily in his last election, unlike Ferguson, who nearly lost.

"However, it is certainly hard to ignore that Americans and New Jerseyans are very concerned about Iraq," said Rebovich.

He said given that Smith is an incumbent congressman who has a keen understanding of the international scene, "you should be willing to speak about your views and not simply dismiss people who disagree with you."

He said, "You can't have it both ways."

Bob Laverty, an East Windsor resident, said he came out to show that the "Iraq Summer" campaign represents the views of Smith's constituents.

Laverty, who is a registered Democrat and has organized anti-war actions in Hightstown, said his efforts aren't partisan.

"I don't think either U.S. political party is going to gain from this disaster – everyone loses," he said.

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