Rain Can't Dampen Impeachment Protest

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North Jersey Record-Online (New Jersey)

Rain Can't Dampen Impeachment Protest

by
Mike Kelly

On a rainy evening last week, a small group of men and women gathered at a busy intersection in Wayne with a message for passing cars."Impeach them now," one sign proclaimed.0324 01 1 2 3

That would be President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney - in case anyone is confused about the impeaching.

All this may seem odd now, the notion of standing on the edge of a rain-soaked roadway at rush hour and calling for the removal of a president and vice president who will be out of office in nine months anyway.

But don't tell that to the hardy collection of northern New Jersey residents who have mounted a persistent call for impeachment. So far, the North Jersey group has 540 members.

"It's not wild-eyed and crazy," said Stuart Hutchison of Wayne, a 58-year-old actor, writer and radio producer who is one of the most active impeachment advocates in North Jersey. "I chafe at being categorized as a person on the fringe."

Maybe so. To peer into the world of the impeachment movement is to gaze at a piece of America's political fringe - certainly the part that is decidedly left of center. But such a description is far too simplistic and incomplete. North Jersey's impeachment roots spread across a wide spectrum.

Consider the political journey of Josephine Sippie-Gora of Kinnelon. She is 67, a former high school math teacher and real estate agent - hardly the description of a radical.

"I don't think of myself as a fringe person," she said. "I think of myself as rational."

Sippie-Gora, who was raised in Passaic and is the mother of a grown son and daughter, voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980. Before that, she

voted for Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater.

Times change, though. She voted for Bill Clinton, then Ralph Nader - while also becoming more involved in what she calls "social justice issues."

But when Sippie-Gora read about the faulty intelligence that prompted the Iraq war, about the torturing of captured terrorist suspects and about the increases in domestic surveillance, she took another step and joined North Jersey's impeachment group.

"I believe in the rule of law," she said, adding this logic for impeachment: "It's not a political decision. It's accountability."

Keith Armonaitis, another impeachment activist, agrees.

"We need to hold our elected officials accountable just as they hold us accountable," Armonaitis said. "Let's say you robbed a bank and there is a statute of limitations with only nine months left. Do you think the police should stop looking for you?"

Armonaitis, 39, a director of research for a marketing firm, grew up in Rochelle Park, the son of a train engineer. He now lives in Rockaway with his wife and a 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.

"I'm not anti-American. I'm not anti-government," he says. "I believe very strongly in the American ideals set forth over 200 years ago."

Impeachment, Armonaitis said, "is not about kicking people out of office. It's about investigating. I don't think it would be traumatic. I think you'll see people breathing a sigh of relief."

Not everyone is so quick to leap on the impeachment bandwagon.

Rep. Steve Rothman, the Fair Lawn Democrat and hardly a fan of Bush, still describes the traumatic impact on Congress of President Bill Clinton's impeachment battle a decade ago.

"This is not a new issue for me," said Rothman, then a member of the House Judiciary Committee that held impeachment hearings.

Rothman said it's not unusual for constituents to raise the question of impeaching Bush. And while he co-sponsored an unsuccessful bill two years ago to investigate possible impeachment charges against Bush, Rothman is not eager to jump into a full-blown impeachment proceeding now.

"We know what the cost to the nation will be in terms of loss of congressional and presidential focus if Congress begins an impeachment of the president," he said. "The question is whether the evidence of alleged impeachable offenses justifies the cost."

For the small group that gathered last week on the Wayne intersection, the answer is already clear.

Peg Wood, 50, who lives in West Milford and works as a mechanical engineer for a Bergen County electronics firm, even goes so far as to call for an investigation of Bush even after a new president moves into the White House.

"He will be out but he can still be charged for his crimes," Wood said. "If he's not charged, that will set a precedent for the future."

And one ongoing issue will likely fuel the impeachment drive - and prompt small groups of impeachment advocates to show on roadsides with signs.

"The No. 1 issue is the war in Iraq," said Stephen Palmino, 62 of Wayne, a former high school art teacher who volunteers now as an EMT. "Somebody has to answer for it."

E-mail: kellym@northjersey.com

© 2008 North Jersey Online

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