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In Toledo, Ohio, the Patriot Act has given rise to its own urban legend. On the afternoon of Nov. 6, 2003, Toledo City Councilman Peter Gerken kicked off a press conference to publicize his proposed resolution condemning the anti-terror law. Behind him, in the lobby of the city’s 22-story government office building, supportive citizens unfurled a banner that read “The Patriot Act is ‘unpatriotic.’” At that point, an Ohio state trooper working security disrupted the gathering, grabbed Gerken and escorted him from the building. “The building management obviously didn’t like what they were hearing,” Gerken says. But Gerken’s Republican colleague, Councilman George Sarantou, has a different explanation. Sarantou says security interrupted the event because it was held at the end of the workday as people were trying to leave the building. Whatever the reality, the incident quickly entered Toledo’s local lore — one bartender swears Gerken was dragged out in handcuffs on live TV. In matters related to the controversial USA Patriot Act, spin and hysteria have a way of obscuring truth. The Toledo City Council passed Gerken’s “Resolution to Support a Free, Safe and Secure Toledo” on Dec. 9, 2003, by a vote of 10-2, joining a mounting number of towns, cities and states that have spoken out on the Patriot Act. According to the American Civil Liberties Union Web site, 342 localities to date have passed measures opposing the act, which bestowed new powers on federal law enforcement to aid in the fight against terrorism. Bush administration officials at first dismissed the movement as the work of left-wing activists in liberal states like California and Massachusetts, but as the list of local resolutions has grown to include major cities in the election battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan, the administration has started to pay attention. While the resolutions have little practical impact, administration officials fear their proliferation may pressure lawmakers to withdraw support for some of the Patriot Act’s more controversial provisions set to expire at the end of 2005. “There will undoubtedly be letters to Congress over the next year as the debate over reauthorization heats up, claiming that hundreds of communities have passed resolutions condemning the Patriot Act,” says Paul McNulty, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. The Justice Department insists that the wave of resolutions does not reflect a spontaneous groundswell of opposition to the Patriot Act but rather a nationally coordinated lobbying campaign intended to influence lawmakers in Washington. They have a point. Most of the resolutions, including the one passed in Toledo, include boilerplate language provided by the ACLU and, contrary to their billing, stop far short of condemning the Patriot Act. Many demand no particular action from government officials, but simply affirm general support for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. To be sure, there have been more aggressive measures. For example, the city commission of Lawrence, Kan., approved a resolution in April 2004 requesting the repeal of the Patriot Act in its entirety. In April 2003, the Northern California city of Arcata, population 16,000, passed an ordinance imposing a $57 fine on any city department head who voluntarily complies with investigations or arrests under the Patriot Act. Also last year, the state of Alaska, where President George W. Bush won nearly 60 percent of the popular vote in 2000, passed a resolution barring state law enforcement from engaging in certain activities authorized under the Patriot Act. But those strongly worded directives seem to be the exception. ACLU National Field Coordinator Damon Moglen says it’s the symbolic statement that counts. “When communities come forward and say, ‘We wish to protect and defend the Bill of Rights and Constitution,’ that has to be read for what it is,” he says. “The language is somewhat coded, but that’s a statement of concern.” Moglen adds, “The No. 1 effect of these resolutions is that nearly one-fifth of U.S. citizens are living in communities that have protested these actions. I think the politicians have heard that.” Robert Ludeman, a Republican and the second Toledo councilman to vote against his city’s Patriot Act resolution, chuckles at the suggestion that the Toledo resolution represents the consensus viewpoint of the community. “I can guarantee it doesn’t reflect the community’s views,” Ludeman says. “If you took a poll in Toledo, it would probably be 10-2 the other direction.” BUCKEYE BATTLEGROUND To those running presidential campaigns, cities like Toledo matter. No Republican president has ever won an election without taking Ohio, and only two Democrats have managed that feat in the last 100 years. In 2000, George W. Bush beat Al Gore in Ohio by a 4 percent margin. This year, both the Bush and Kerry camps are spending considerable time and energy campaigning there. According to a July 2004 study conducted by Nielsen Monitor-Plus and the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project, four of the top five markets for campaign ads are in Ohio. Toledo — traditionally a Democratic stronghold — is No. 1. The most important political issue in Toledo is jobs. Like Detroit, just 60 miles away across the Ohio-Michigan border, Toledo’s economy is heavily dependent on a slumping auto manufacturing industry. The city’s unemployment rate hovers just below 10 percent, compared with 5.6 percent nationwide, and between 2000 and 2002, Toledo’s population dropped by 4,500. City revenue, which depends on income taxes, is down, and the Toledo Police Department is slated for cuts in 2005 if the situation doesn’t improve. On a weekday afternoon, the city streets are oddly abandoned, except for a few people waiting at the bus stop and a lone man dressed in a khaki suit standing on the corner and preaching the Gospel to no one. It’s a city where one might expect local government to have more important concerns than making a symbolic statement against a federal law. And yet, the issues raised by the Patriot Act resonate in Toledo. As in other communities, the most controversial elements of the act are those related to searches and surveillance, particularly provisions enabling law enforcement agents in national security investigations to obtain records from such places as libraries and under certain circumstances to delay notification that they have executed a search warrant. Mike Ferner, an independent and a former city councilman, says the Patriot Act is a legitimate “city issue.” “Isn’t this where the rubber hits the road? Isn’t this where the law takes effect? In the Toledos, Houstons and Des Moines of the world?” Local activists first approached Gerken, a four-term Democrat on the Toledo City Council, about sponsoring an anti-Patriot Act resolution in the spring of 2003. Initially, Gerken and co-sponsor Frank Szollosi, a Democrat, put forth a resolution lifted almost word for word from the Web site of the ACLU. But as the measure neared a vote, opposition came from an unlikely source — Toledo’s Democratic Mayor Jack Ford. Ford felt the resolution intruded on his prerogatives as mayor and might violate the state constitution by instructing the Toledo Police to refrain from engaging in certain surveillance activities. A last-minute compromise resulted in the introduction of a milder resolution. In the final version, the Toledo City Council expressed concern that federal policies related to the war on terror, including certain parts of the Patriot Act, “threaten provisions of the Constitution.” The council urged elected officials to “monitor federal anti-terrorism tactics and work to repeal provisions of the USA Patriot Act and other laws and regulations that infringe on civil rights and liberties.” Like a number of other government bodies, the Toledo City Council in its resolution also requested that city libraries post signs alerting patrons that their records may be obtained by federal agents. On a July visit to the main city library, no such sign appeared. Ferner, a Vietnam War veteran and peace activist who backed the original resolution, calls the final outcome a “fraud.” “The council wanted to approve something that could be all things to all people,” he says. “They took the proposal that was given to them and gutted it.” But Gerken, who is currently running for a slot on the Lucas County Commission — Toledo is the county seat — defends the compromise version as good politics. “You have to know where you want to go at the end of the day,” says Gerken. “You start at Point A knowing you’ll get to Point B.” Jeffrey Gamso, a Toledo defense attorney and legal director of Ohio’s ACLU chapter, looks at the bigger picture. “The Toledo resolution and others like it provide cover for members of Congress who might be having second thoughts about the Patriot Act,” Gamso says. “It signals that they won’t be voted out of office for opposing the Patriot Act and that a substantial constituency believes that the law went too far.” Gamso, named to the ACLU post in June, is in the middle of a statewide tour, with stops in Akron, Columbus, Cincinnati and other cities, to discuss the war on terror’s impact on civil liberties. After finishing a bowl of chili and a hot dog at East Toledo’s famous Tony Packo’s, he segues seamlessly into his stump speech. “Our country’s history demonstrates that whenever we are in a crisis — real or perceived — government will invade our rights. They always use the same justification: keeping Americans safe,” he says. “Right now, they have the system set up so we can’t find out what they’re doing. We, the people, can’t hold the government accountable.” FINDING THEIR VOICE Northern Ohio’s top federal prosecutor, Gregory White, says he was dismayed to learn of Toledo’s proposed resolution. The Justice Department had recently launched an aggressive public relations campaign to boost support for the Patriot Act and was urging U.S. attorneys to deliver the message in their communities. White says he encouraged members of the Toledo City Council to consult his office about their concerns before taking a vote on the resolution, but not one took him up on his offer. “I don’t think they were looking for a lot of input from outside,” White says. In Sept. 2003, White’s hometown of Oberlin, Ohio, passed its own measure opposing the Patriot Act. Now Cleveland, another city in White’s district, is contemplating a resolution. “These resolutions don’t have any real impact, but they perpetuate myths,” White says. Debunking myths about the Patriot Act can feel like an uphill climb. In many ways, the law has become a catch-all reference for citizens concerned about the government’s approach to the war on terror. Often those concerns have little to do with the law itself. “There’s a balance between the freedoms we enjoy and the authority of government to investigate matters of national security,” White says. “My point is let’s have that debate, but let’s do it on the merits of what the Patriot Act does. Let’s not talk about the issue of Guantanamo or whether someone is an enemy combatant.” Other DOJ officials share White’s complaint that those backing local resolutions often mischaracterize the Patriot Act to gain support and rebuff efforts by law enforcement officials to set the record straight. Virginia’s McNulty says he asked to address the Alexandria, Va., City Council before it voted on a Patriot Act-related resolution in Nov. 2003, but was turned away. The resolution passed. “What it says is that most councils are not interested in learning about the Patriot Act,” says DOJ spokesman Mark Corallo. “They are interested in adding another tally mark to the ACLU’s list.” Toledo’s Gerken rejects the suggestion that the city’s resolution did not receive due consideration. “I believe there was the ultimate public hearing. It took place in bars, coffeehouses, among families,” he says. “I don’t think we need conversation only in the chambers of government.” He adds, “We didn’t rush our ordinance through with the same speed Congress rushed the Patriot Act through. We generated good public information and created a local conversation that we needed to have.” Editor’s note: For a related article on the Justice Department’s unprecedented nationwide campaign to boost support for the Patriot Act, see The Details of DOJ’s Patriot Push.

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