President promotes volunteerism in police and emergency services

Monday, April 8th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ President Bush, eager to refocus attention on his domestic agenda amid the Mideast crisis, lauded elected officials Monday for heeding his call to bolster police and emergency teams with volunteers.

``It makes sense to come to the Volunteer State to talk about the need for our citizens to help each other,'' Bush said.

Bush toured Knoxville's Citizens' Police Academy, a training center for volunteers, saying he considers it a model for what he is trying to create around the nation.

``I'm here to explain to the nation the importance of citizens becoming involved with preparedness in their communities,'' Bush said. ``I want other people to see what is possible.''

Hecklers repeatedly interrupted Bush's speech at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium; he watched as authorities removed them, but didn't change his standard address on the war against terrorism. The demonstrators shouted: ``We won't fight your racist war!''

Bush had to yell at one point as counter-hecklers shouted the protesters down.

He praised local officials who have set up councils to coordinate the Citizen Corps that Bush called for in his State of the Union address. It is a network of everyday Americans pitching in on community-level police, emergency response and counterterrorism efforts.

The president has proposed spending $230 million in 2003 to establish Citizen Corps councils in local communities. Monday, the White House said he would seek another $50 million for the effort.

Among the mayors in Knoxville for the announcement were Anthony Williams of Washington and James Hahn of Los Angeles, two Democrats who flew with Bush on Air Force One.

History will view Bush's new effort as the period when communities banded together to prepare for terrorism, said John Bridgeland, head of the USA Freedom Corps.

``And in the process, if no terrorism comes, (they) strengthened crime prevention, natural disaster preparedness and emergency and public health response,'' Bridgeland said.

After returning to the White House Monday afternoon, Bush planned to address labor leaders, urging the Senate to pass legislation aimed at protecting businesses against skyrocketing premiums on terrorism insurance.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush wants to address the insurance industry's reluctance to take out terrorism insurance because it anticipates tremendous costs in the event of another attack.

As an example, Fleischer said, a resort planned in Nevada that would generate 1,600 jobs is on hold because of a lack of terrorism insurance. The Miami Dolphins and New York Giants football teams have lost coverage, Fleischer said, and the Mall of America saw its premiums increase tenfold.

``It's a real vulnerability in our safety net to protect America from another terrorist attack,'' Fleischer said.

Bush's trip was notable for the absence of a political fund-raising event. Of the 11 domestic trips he has taken since the start of March, he has raised campaign cash for Republicans in all but three.

In part, the visit here had no fund-raiser because the White House has been unable to dissuade Rep. Ed Bryant, R-Tenn., from running for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Fred Thompson.

Twice last month, White House political chief Karl Rove talked to Bryant, subtly urging him not to run against Lamar Alexander, the president's choice to win the nomination.

Bryant said he is running anyhow, and told associates the White House should stop butting into GOP primaries.

The visit here to discuss the Citizen Corps also offered an opportunity for Bush to change the subject from the Mideast crisis that has been vexing him to the noncontroversial volunteerism effort.

Fleischer said Bush spoke to Secretary of State Colin Powell Monday morning about Powell's trip to the region, and said envoy Anthony Zinni would meet with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon later in the day to reinforce Bush's demand that Israelis begin to withdraw from Palestinian territory immediately.