Ridge gets mixed reception in Cleveland

By THOMAS J. SHEERAN, Associated Press Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge received a mixed reception Friday, applauded by a button-down luncheon audience and denounced by noisy protesters concerned about civil liberties.
More than a dozen protesters worried that anti-terrorist investigations have harmed civil liberties marched peacefully outside the City Club building where Ridge spoke.
They chanted "Nazi Germany and USA, how many Arabs have you put away?" and, "We won't be silent and we won't be tame, homeland security is not in our name."
Ridge shrugged off the protest, saying later that the demonstrators were exercising free speech rights that they might not have under some of the nation's enemies. "They ought to think about that," he said.
Security was tight, with police cars lining the curbside and mounted police patrolling the street. Ridge's security detail stood guard at entrances to the banquet room where he spoke.
In his speech to about 250 people at the City Club forum, Ridge said he was confident the nation's readiness is improving and said people across the nation are working to improve homeland security.
"I reflect the president's optimism that we will prevail in this war," Ridge said. "Every single day we do rise to a new level of readiness."
Ridge said his newly created agency was working to pass along more money to local police, fire and ambulance services that would be the first to respond to a terrorist attack.
The government has distributed $4 billion in such aid, including $63 million in Ohio, Ridge said.
Ridge later traveled to Trumbull Township in Ashtabula County and thanked firefighters for their work.
He announced grants of $148,500 to the township volunteer fire department to buy a tanker truck and a $97,643 grant to nearby Geneva to buy radios, breathing masks and oxygen tanks for firefighters.
"You play a very unique role in the day-to-day life of the community," Ridge said. The visit felt like going home, said Ridge, who grew up 50 miles away in Erie, Pa.
Separately, Ridge's undersecretary, Michael D. Brown, announced in Chicago that the agency was awarding $41,575 to the fire department in Boardman, near Youngstown, and the Chester volunteer fire department in Long Bottom, located along the Ohio River in southeast Ohio.
Outside the City Club, protesters carried placards with slogans including "No police state" and "Ridge: you can't silence our dissent."
Susan Berg, 48, of Akron, one of the protesters, said she was concerned about the nation's direction as it fights terrorism.
"I have just become increasingly appalled and very anxious and fearful about where our country is headed by Bush and his cronies," she said.
Ridge, taking questions from reporters after his speech, said his agency reviews its new programs to make sure they are within the law. "We're never going to ignore the Constitution," he said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)