Safety Precautions Transform Appearance of Capitol Hill
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
WASHINGTON, Aug. 3 - Members of Congress often call the Capitol the People's House. But the house is looking more and more like a fortress.
On Tuesday, one day after the Capitol police announced a series of heightened security measures, Capitol Hill resembled a walled city. The ring of concrete barriers encircling the Capitol building since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has now expanded outward to include the adjacent House and Senate office buildings.
Traffic was slowed Tuesday as the authorities inspected vehicles for explosives.
Tourists and lawmakers said they felt safe - or, if not safe, at least comforted. But they also lamented a way of life lost, and spoke wistfully of the days when people from Kentucky or Arkansas or Oklahoma or anywhere else in the United States could march into the symbol of American democracy and ask to see their congressman - no metal detectors, no questions asked.
"It sickens me to see our democracy as it is now," said Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York. "I remember when I used to jog around the Capitol every morning and not be stopped."
Those days, it appears, are gone, at least for the foreseeable future.
"We think this is something that is long overdue," Terrence W. Gainer, chief of the Capitol police, told reporters Monday evening in outlining specific vehicle checkpoints and the closing of the street that runs between the Russell and Dirksen Senate Office Buildings. Chief Gainer said he expected that the new security steps would last indefinitely, despite a cost of $3 million a month.
Lawmakers interviewed Tuesday did not question the expense, although one, Representative John F. Tierney, Democrat of Massachusetts, said he was "surprised to see the Capitol really under intense scrutiny," given that the building was not on the list of Al Qaeda's targets enumerated Sunday by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.
Asked if the measures were sustainable, Mr. Tierney said, "I think the question is really what is necessary."
''I don't think this is something you are going to see on a day-to-day basis,'' he added, "unless there is reason to believe there is a threat that warrants it."
Visitors seemed to believe that the threat was real.
"I'm very pleased that the security is this good," said Agaat Den Hertog of Shelby, N.C., sitting outside the Capitol with her 8-year-old nephew, who was visiting from the Netherlands. Ms. Den Hertog, who is Dutch, is in the process of becoming an American citizen - in time, she hopes, to vote in the Nov. 2 election.
"I would hate to see a building blown up by any terrorist organization," she said. "This is too beautiful a city."
NYTimes - 4 August