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Inside Politics

New York Dems: Bush exploits 9/11

Bush campaign denounces 'invective'

From Phil Hirschkorn

President Bush, shown here on the campaign trail Tuesday in West Virginia, came in for harsh criticism from New York Democrats.
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Congress discusses recommendations made by the 9/11 commission.
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Jerrold Nadler

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Less than two weeks before the Republican National Convention convenes in Manhattan, a group of congressional Democrats from New York on Tuesday charged that the Bush administration exploits the 9/11 attacks for political gain.

"The Republicans chose to hold their convention here, I think most of us believe, to continue the political exploitation of 9/11, which this administration started almost immediately after 9/11," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose congressional district in Manhattan includes the site where the World Trade Center once stood.

"They want to wrap themselves in 9/11 and wrap themselves in the flag. But the fact of the matter is they don't have the right to do that."

A Bush campaign spokesman dismissed the charge as "pure nonsense."

"I think the American public knows when the opposition party of the president engages in such invective, and they reject it," said spokesman Kevin Madden.

The charge came as a half-dozen lawmakers -- all political foes of the Republican administration -- stood on the steps of City Hall to deliver a scathing critique of Bush's record, saying it was a failure for New York and the nation.

New York City is heavily Democratic, and the four-day GOP convention, which starts August 30 at Madison Square Garden, marks the first time Republicans will nominate their standard bearer in the Big Apple.

Nadler and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, said the administration's funding formula for homeland security was faulty. They said it does not distribute funds to cities and states in proportion to the threats against them.

On a per capita basis, they said, some rural areas receive more than New York City.

"It may be that there's some weird terrorist out there who really wants to destroy a Kansas wheat field. I doubt it," Nadler said. "But the real threat is here and in Washington -- we know that from the intelligence we have.

"When they start helping us and dealing with these problems fairly, then they'll have the right to expect intelligent gratitude from New Yorkers."

Before the attacks of September 11, 2001, New York was targeted on numerous occasions by Islamic terrorists bent on blowing up landmarks, including a group that detonated a truck bomb under the World Trade Center in 1993.

Without responding directly to the Democratic charge that the funds were not distributed fairly, Madden defended Bush's stewardship on homeland security.

"The president's leadership on the issue of homeland security is a policy area where he's been very decisive and has backed up his policy priorities with funding," Madden said.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-New York, said he believes the Republican Party chose New York for its convention site "to make this campaign about national security and the fight against terrorism. If that is the case, we have three words for them -- bring it on."

"We want to have that debate, we want to discuss their shortcomings, and I believe today they're wondering if they made the right decision. If you look at all of the polls, and you look at their record, they clearly are fighting this on losing terrain," Weiner said.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, completed earlier this month, found that more respondents believe Bush would better handle terrorism than his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry, 54 percent to 41 percent.

But the congressional Democrats charged the administration had not delivered billions of dollars in aid promised to the state after September 11, 2001.

And they said the administration has shortchanged security at the Port of New York and New Jersey, the nation's second-largest, where more than 2 million cargo containers a year enter the country.

The vast majority of containers, they said, are not inspected.

But Madden said Bush has increased funding for port security since taking office and is pushing for more money.

New York was Bush's third-worst state in the 2000 election -- he won only 35 percent of the vote against Democrat Al Gore's 60 percent.

Nineteen of the state's 29 House members -- including 12 of the 13 who represent New York City -- and both U.S. senators, Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, are Democrats.

The state's governor, George Pataki, is a Republican serving his third term. Pataki will introduce Bush when he accepts his party's nomination on September 2.

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