May 24, 2006
Veterans Running For Congress
A few months shy of what is sure to be a heated political season, four military veterans running as Congressional candidates along the northeast introduced themselves at a peace rally in Southampton on Sunday.
Called Voices For Peace, the fundraiser, which focused on the war in Iraq and the attitudinal and political direction of the country, drew 100 people. It was sponsored by the East Hampton and Southampton Democratic committees, East End Veterans, and Voices For Peace.
"We don't want politicians anymore; we want leaders," said Joseph Giannini, of East End Vets. "Across this land, veterans are coming forward." Nationally, the Democratic Party has plotted a new political course, putting up veterans to run in the Midterm Elections in hopes of diluting the traditionally Republican stronghold.
Locally, Congressman Tim Bishop introduced four veterans running for Congress on the Democratic ticket, but not before he urged his constituents to "stand up against the flawed, failed presidency" of George Bush. "We need 15 more seats on our side of the aisle."
The contenders were Mishonda Baldwin, running for Maryland's 3rd Congressional District; Rich Sexton, for New Jersey's 3rd district; Bob Johnson, for New York's 23rd district; and Eric Massa, for New York's 29th district.
Baldwin, who was an army captain in counterintelligence in Desert Storm, is currently a practicing attorney. She recalled her time overseas when her battalion received its marching orders, and she was forced to stay behind due to illness. Later, she heard, the vehicle she would have been riding in was attacked and the woman that replaced her was killed. "I'm running because that young lady can't," she said.
Opposed to the war in Iraq, she called for the return of American troops. "It's time for new ideas. It's time for new voices. It's time to make room at the table for new people."
Next to speak was Sexton, an attorney and a retired naval Lieutenant Commander who served in the Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Northern Arabian Sea.
Sexton criticized President Bush for providing inadequate healthcare for the underprivileged and for "starting a war on false pretenses."
"Sometimes I wonder if the pre 9/11 world didn't have some of its advantages," he said, noting how "magnificently" the country responded after the attack at Pearl Harbor in 1941: growing vegetables in victory gardens, food rationings, and a well thought-out plan for war "instead of sending people in helter skelter." Citizens, he said, need to go back to the attitude of that time, of being "in this together," and refusing to "fight senseless wars."
Johnson, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Medical Corp during the Gulf War, told the crowd that as Congressman he would work to "redeploy the troops out of Iraq." He too cited the need for better healthcare, "sound energy" policies, protected civil liberties, and improved education — issues he intends to fight for. "We must take back the Congress this year and we must hold the president accountable."
Last to speak was Massa, who served in the Navy for 24 years with tours of duty during the Iraqi invasions of Kuwait and Desert Storm. A self-proclaimed "fighting Democrat," he told the audience "If you're not angry, you're asleep."
The veteran spoke of the need for equitable healthcare, a balanced budget, and an acceptable foreign exchange policy.
"Roosevelt gave the New Deal; Truman gave the Fair Deal; George Bush gave the raw deal," he said.