Lawmaker vows to fight criticism over Walter Reed role

By Mark Wegner

March 16, 2007

Rep. C.W. (Bill) Young, R-Fla., on Friday said he would not go quietly in the face of Democratic charges that he saw substandard care of wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center but did nothing about it.

Young, who has not said whether he would seek another term, did not specifically announce his plans, but in an interview with CongressDaily, he suggested he would not back down from the fight.

"I have given some serious thought to retiring at the end of this term. I do not run away from political threats," Young said. "If the national Democrats think that this smear attack, based on this big lie, will get me to retire, they don't know me very well."

Asked if Democrats risk a backlash for publicizing the Walter Reed story in his district, Young responded, "I intend to start one. I am not without resources." Young, 76, said he would officially announce his plans during the candidate qualifying period in May 2008.

Democrats served notice Thursday they hope to make a serious run at Young's seat by blasting the veteran lawmaker for not using his clout as chairman and now ranking member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to force changes in the care that injured soldiers receive on their return from Iraq and elsewhere.

Former Rep. Karen Thurman, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, sent an e-mail to 150,000 party activists that Young's "silence on this issue is a moral outrage" and urged them to contribute to the party and write letters to the newspaper. "Most Americans would agree that our heroes should come before politics. It's simple human decency, and if our members of Congress don't understand that, they need to be fired," Thurman wrote.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last week sent Southern regional political director Bret Wask to the district to meet with potential candidates. A Florida Democratic Party spokesman said Thurman acted out of personal outrage at the Walter Reed revelations, and noted that her former district has one of the highest concentrations of veterans in the country.

Young said bloggers using incomplete news reports created the perception that he ignored cases of poor care for veterans. In a two-page letter to Thurman, sent Thursday, Young detailed the personal time he and his wife Beverly have spent with veterans. "You have changed the personal smear campaign that my family and I have endured for several weeks into a political smear campaign based on what has become the big lie," he wrote.

Democrats have fielded only light opposition to Young, who won a 19th term with 66 percent of the vote last year. Bush won the district in 2004 with 51 percent, and Pinellas County has trended Democratic.

"I think we have a shot regardless" of whether Young retires, a DCCC spokeswoman said. "You can look at the presidential numbers. It's a highly competitive district."

Democrats have approached former state Rep. Lars Hafner and former state House Speaker Peter Rudy Wallace about running. Other prospects include state Reps. Bill Heller and Rick Kriseman, state Sen. Charlie Justice and Bayfront Medical Center CEO Sue Brody.

By Mark Wegner

March 16, 2007