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Needham declines Iraq war stance

Town members voice decision to stay local

Town Meeting ticked through the night's agenda. Install a new roof for the elementary school. Done. Repair the public pool. No problem. Replace sections of the town's sewage system. OK. Withdraw US troops from Iraq?

It came up at about 10 Monday night, 2 1/2 hours into the fifth and final night of Town Meeting. A balding, ponytailed psychiatrist stood up and proposed that Needham join other cities and towns across the nation in sending a message to President Bush and Congress calling for pulling out the troops.

The resolution was defeated by voice vote, with forceful yeas and nays on both sides.

Dr. Eric D. Leskowitz proposed the resolution after learning about the national antiwar movement from a website hosted by the Washington-based Cities for Progress (

In Massachusetts, Amherst, Arlington, Cambridge, and Leverett have supported the resolution, according the website, which includes a tool kit for drafting proposals.

''I thought, 'Why not Needham?' " Leskowitz said in an interview.

Individual Town Meeting members, with the moderator's consent, are allowed to present their own resolutions. Leskowitz circulated a handout with his proposal beginning the first night of Town Meeting on May 1.

Leskowitz said he treated World War II and Korean War veterans while working as a psychiatrist at a Veterans Administration hospital in the 1980s.

''People were still scarred 40 years later," said Leskowitz, who has not served in the military.

Rev. John Buehrens of the First Parish in Needham Unitarian Universalist church endorsed the resolution along with two other local religious leaders and two representatives from the Needham chapter of Military Families Speak Out.

''There have been relatively few times in American history where American society feels so frustrated by the inattention of the national government to their moral concerns," said Buehrens.

The clergyman said he went to Iraq with a delegation of the National Council of Churches three months before the war began. The delegates performed humanitarian inspections at about the same time the United Nations was making its weapons inspections, Buehrens said.

''It seems to me that, today, the New England Town Meeting is one of the few places where ordinary Americans can make their voices heard," said Buehrens.

Cities for Progress director Karen Dolan said 102 towns and cities have signed on to her group's campaign, which is called Cities for Peace.

During the 10-minute recess before Leskowitz's presentation, Town Meeting members Maurice P. Handel and Arthur Walitt talked about the resolution over coffee.

Handel said he supported putting Needham on record as favoring withdrawal but added that he was open to hearing arguments about whether Town Meeting was the appropriate forum for the debate.

Walitt said he would vote against the proposal. ''This is a forum for local politics," said Walitt. ''They say all politics are local politics, but this comes out of the blue." He said it was too far-reaching ''to go from worrying about roads to worrying about Iraq."

''In November we'll decide on the Iraq war," said Walitt, referring to the congressional elections.

Handel said the war is a local issue, as it ''robs" money from the state that could go to towns like Needham. ''The money is not being spent locally. It's being spent in Iraq," he said.

Member James Hugh Powers tried to persuade the moderator to block debate on grounds that Leskowitz had failed to provide sufficient notice about his resolution and that the Iraq war was not Town Meeting's business.

Moderator Michael K. Fee disagreed, saying that Town Meeting has entertained a wide variety of proposals, including a 2004 resolution against hate.

''We cannot legislate a town conscience," Town Meeting member John Comando said.

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