Major Owens, John Murtha Skirmish on the Air


There may be some unexpected fireworks at tonight’s “town hall” meeting on the Iraq war with anti-war hawk John Murtha.

The Pennsylvania Democrat (pictured below) will be speaking out at the Park Slope United Methodist Church at 7: 30 p.m. tonight, discussing his call for a phased redeployment of U.S. troops by the end of this year.

But his decision to appear at the forum with Brooklyn councilmember Yvette Clarke and Congressman Anthony Weiner has already caused a minor dustup with the Owens camp.

Congressman Major Owens, whose son Chris Owens is running against Clarke to take over his seat on the Hill, called in to the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC this morning to question why he was not notified of the event, which is taking place in his congressional district.

“[Weiner] set it up in my district instead of his district and didn’t bother to notify me,” Owens complained, calling that a “great breach of protocol.”

In fact, the appearance was set up by the Clarke campaign, which, not surprisingly, neglected to invite along her competitor’s father.

Daddy Owens also took Murtha to task for endorsing Clarke, considering his own and his son’s ample anti-war credentials. (Major Owens was one of the 133 House representatives who voted against the war, while both Weiner and Murtha voted for it.)

But Murtha claimed Clarke had simply gotten to him first. “Yvette Clarke was out front earlier and talked to me earlier,” Murtha responded. He noted that Clarke had called him to discuss introducing a resolution in the City Council to back his pullout resolution in the House. “She talked to me at length about the war itself and her position. I don’t know her personally, but I’ve talked to her a number of times,” Murtha said, adding, “I felt she paid very close attention to what I was trying to do . . . . She got to me right away, and she supported my position. A very responsible redeployment from Iraq is something that she has been saying, so I felt it was appropriate for me to endorse her.”

(Murtha, who’ll aim to become House majority leader if the Democrats take over this fall, spent most of the interview talking about why he believes that continuing the U.S. occupation, at the cost of $8 billion a month, is pointless. “There is no progress being made,” he claimed, noting that the number of violent incidents has increased over the last year from 49 a day to more than 125 a day. Nine more U.S. troops were killed last weekend.)

So how does Murtha, who is known to keep a tight fist as the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, feel about Clarke’s unpaid student loans and her padded college resume?

Murtha’s office declined to comment on that. “To him, this is strictly about Iraq,” a spokesperson told the Voice.

Whether tonight’s hour-long event stays “strictly” on Iraq is the question. Clearly, the event was set up by Clarke’s people to trumpet Murtha’s endorsement. Weiner, who also endorsed Clarke, has also signed on to Murtha’s call for a pull-out.

But Major Owens, who wants an “immediate withdrawal” from Iraq, told WNYC listeners he plans to attend, too, and he’ll presumably get his two cents in.