Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer has found herself in a battle of words with a group of conservative state delegates who -- to her puzzlement -- have put her in the forefront of the anti-war movement.
The Maryland Liberty Committee, formed this month by five Republican delegates, wrote a letter to Moyer on Friday after she suggested that community groups hold forums in which residents on all sides of the issue could discuss the war in Iraq.
"I insist that you stop the anti-war rhetoric, be a true American," the committee wrote. "Hussein and the terrorists he harbors should be the target of your dissatisfaction, not the President, and not the men and women who right now are risking their lives to protect your Life and Liberty."
But Moyer -- who has not taken a public position on the wisdom of the war or criticized President Bush -- said she was shocked by the letter, which she characterized as "bizarre."
"I was pretty ... surprised to pick up a letter that said my request to have people dialogue about issues of war and peace was described as un-American," Moyer said yesterday. "What is the fear of having people talk?"
Moyer, a liberal Democrat, is known more for planting flowers in public spaces than sowing the seeds of political unrest. But Baltimore County Del. Joseph C. Boteler III said her intentions in encouraging community debate are clear and that she epitomizes a troubling trend of anti-Americanism at home.
"I think what she is trying to do is promote an anti-war philosophy," said Boteler, a member of the committee, which he said has Libertarian-like ideas.
He noted that while he demonstrated against the Vietnam War, he never criticized the troops. "These people are coming out and they are trying to act like this is about having dialogue. But that's not it, it's a screen for the hate-America crowd," he said.
Push for discourse
Moyer's push for public dialogue on the war began after a fellow Annapolis city council member, Alderwoman Cynthia Carter, introduced an anti-war resolution at a council meeting March 10, more than a week before the war began.
At that meeting, a number of anti-war activists spoke -- including one who complained that he felt there was not enough public discussion about the need to go to war. Several residents who supported action in Iraq said they were upset that there was not more notice about the last-minute resolution.
So Moyer sent community groups a letter March 14, in which she wrote: "The strength of American democracy has been our ability to dialogue, to respect dissenting opinions, and to listen to one another. On some issues we, as humans, will not agree, but the give and take of debate is essential to a free society."
Then, on Thursday -- the day after military strikes began -- she reiterated her call for community groups to provide forums for discussion in a letter that began: "Our country has engaged Iraq in battle. Whatever our personal feelings about this war, now is the time to come together in support of our troops abroad."
In their letter the next day, the committee -- which also includes Anne Arundel Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr., Howard County Del. Warren E. Miller, and Baltimore County/Harford County Dels. Richard K. Impallaria and Patrick L. McDonough -- railed at her for making the war "a stage for partisan politics."
They also reminded her that "Saddam Hussein, his followers, and the terrorists they harbor and support do not respect such difference of opinion."
In her reply letter Monday, Moyer called the Liberty Committee's critique "blatantly political, dishonest and misrepresentative of my position" and questioned whether the members respected free speech.
"Dialogue is not synonymous with sedition," Moyer wrote. "I'm sorry you feel threatened by the prospect of having people discuss issues that relate to their own domestic tranquillity."
Pressed for her opinion on the war yesterday, Moyer said that while she had reservations before the conflict began, "now is the time to support the people who are following the lead of the president."
Dwyer, who penned the committee's letter, said he was under the impression after reading a newspaper article about the anti-war resolution that Moyer "was, as mayor, taking a stand against the war and using her office as a bully-pulpit for opposition."
But after reading Moyer's reply, he reread the newspaper article and her community letters and, now, is not so sure.
"I'm not really sure that I have the disagreement with her I thought I did," Dwyer said. "You know, I need to talk to her, and I will do that. Then we will figure out if this confrontation needs to go on."