08.25.09

Congressman to Gaddafi: Keep Out!

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) tells The Daily Beast that Muammar Gaddafi’s plans to stay in New Jersey are unacceptable—"He has American blood on his hands."—and he's taking his case to Obama.

Rep. Steve Rothman, Democrat of New Jersey, has a message for Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi: Stay the hell out of the 9th Congressional District. In fact, don’t set foot in any part of the state.

“I don’t want this murderous thug of a dictator, this psychopath, in my district where he might cause some security problems,” Rothman told The Daily Beast this morning, reacting to news that Col. Gaddafi is considering a 25-room mansion in Englewood for use as a temporary residence during his planned visit next month for the United Nations General Assembly. “He has American blood on his hands and has been, for decades, inspiring international terrorism and pursuing weapons of mass destruction. Also, the celebration that just occurred in Libya for the mass-murdering Lockerbie bomber was beyond the pale.”

“I’ve told the White House I won’t take no for an answer.”

Rothman’s crusade is the latest factor clouding Gaddafi’s planned visit to the United States—a trip already complicated by the release of the Pan Am Flight 103 bomber from a Scottish prison and the joyous official welcome the bomber received last Friday in Tripoli. So far, the Libyans haven't found a suitable place for their head of state to pitch his tent. Authorities denied their request to use Central Park for this purpose, and rumors of location scouting next door to a synagogue are causing a predictable uproar.

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Since Saturday, when he first heard rumors of Gaddafi’s plans, Rothman has been working the phones nonstop to the White House and the State Department, demanding that government officials prevent the Libyan strongman from using the two-acre, hilltop property. Rothman was mayor of Englewood, a Manhattan suburb, when the Libyan government first acquired the estate in the early 1980s, and worked closely with the Reagan administration to obtain a directive restricting the mansion’s use to Libya’s UN ambassador, his immediate family and nobody else. Never mind that in recent years, Libya has de-weaponized, renounced terrorism and made restitution to the families of victims of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing—which killed 270 people, including 33 New Jersey residents, in December 1988. Rothman sees no reason to relax the policy.

“I’ve told the White House I won’t take no for an answer,” he said, and as one of the first congressmen to endorse President Barack Obama during the primary campaign, he has enough juice to make it stick.

Lloyd Grove is Editor at Large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.