Peace Now

Bob McCloskey is pushing Congressman Adam Schiff on his war votes, but he may be outgunned

By Justin Chapman and Joe Piasecki, LA CityBeat/ValleyBeat, 6/1/2006

The Democratic primary race for the Glendale-area 29th Congressional District is emblematic of a party in crisis: Popular three-term incumbent Adam Schiff supports the Iraq War and has more than $1 million in campaign funds; Monterey Park peace activist Bob McCloskey, with only $20,000 in his war chest, has little more on hand than a steadfast belief that the war is wrong and the faith that many Democrats agree with him.

Schiff, a former federal prosecutor who in 2000 defeated Republican and Clinton impeachment prosecutor Jim Rogan during the costliest race in House of Representatives history, is a law-and-order -- and anti-terrorism -- kind of guy. In 2001 Schiff cosponsored the House version of the USA Patriot Act and later called for Iraq reconstruction efforts to match the scale of World War II's Marshall Plan, saying military occupation should persist until the new Iraq is politically stable.

A retired union activist, McCloskey is opposed to the Patriot Act and wants the troops out of Iraq right now. "It's time for the Democrats to stand up and have some backbone, to stand up to the Bush administration and call for impeachment," says McCloskey, 55 and a father of three. This is a position that has more in common with Green Party opponent and former Pasadena Mayor Bill Paparian, than with those in control of his own party. And that, he says, is precisely why he is running as a Democrat.

"I want to take the party back," he says.

The state Democratic Party has officially endorsed Schiff, and a lot of his backers are counting on him to cruise to easy victory. Among his major donors are political action committees sponsored by military contractors such as Boeing, General Electric, Parsons Corp., and Raytheon, and media giants such as News America-Fox, the Recording Industry Association of America, Sony Pictures, Time Warner, Yahoo!, Viacom, Microsoft and Disney; financial giants AT&T, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Capital One.

Schiff has also found $10,000 in support (half of McCloskey's entire bankroll, including loans to himself) this year from the Blue Dog Political Action Committee, a centrist internal party group. He has not directly challenged McCloskey's assertions, but says he is not an apologist for the Bush administration, and -- like Jane Harman and other congresspersons who have supported the war -- is working to put the breaks on domestic spying by the National Security Agency.

During an April 6 House Judiciary Committee meeting, Schiff asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez whether the NSA had been monitoring domestic calls between American citizens.

"The attorney general didn't really give me a direct answer, said he wouldn't rule it out. I think we were all a bit shocked," says Schiff, recounting that hearing. "If they can't rule that out, there's truly no limit to what they can do."

Schiff has since called for security officials to be subpoenaed for congressional hearings, and co-authored the NSA Oversight Act, which would take a position against unwarranted wiretapping and require the Bush administration to disclose wiretapping activities to Congress.

But for McCloskey, that's not far enough. "I've been very disappointed with Schiff's leadership," he says. "How can we expect a congressman who receives campaign money from corporations to use oversight on those corporations? Schiff continues to support the wartime budget, perpetual war in Iraq, and a possible war in Iran. We're passing these costs to our grandchildren. It's not right."

While McCloskey believes filing impeachment proceedings is the only way to see change in Washington, Schiff is reluctant to even publicly consider such a move. "I saw what a terrible ordeal the last impeachment put the country through; I'm not eager to go through that again," said Schiff, who recently moved his wife and two children to a home in a Washington suburb while retaining a part-time residence in Burbank.

Longtime Democrat and peace activist Claire Gorfinkel summed up what many are feeling when she joined McCloskey and local Green Party candidates two weeks ago for a protest outside Schiff's office.

"While he's a good guy," she said of Schiff, "he's wrong about the war and it's important for him to know that members of his community feel strongly that the war needs to end, that the war was wrong from the outset and he was wrong from the outset for supporting it."

McCloskey, Schiff and other candidates participate in a dialogue with the Rev. James Lawson at Scott Methodist Church, 444 N. Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena, Friday, June 2, 7:30 p.m.