Rep. Anthony Weiner says the threat his office received is another unfortunate example of the health care debate bringing out some of the worst instincts in people.
Authorities are investigating a package with white powder and an angry letter that referenced the health care legislation that was sent to Congressman Weiner's Kew Gardens office today.
The letter said the Congressman should "drop dead" and complained about the historic health care legislation passed by Congress this week.
Preliminary field tests showed the white powder was harmless. Such testing is routine to determine whether the substance is in any way hazardous. It is being sent to a lab for further detailed testing as a precaution -- also common practice. Most often, officials say, these letters are hoaxes.
Weiner's fifth-floor office in a building on Kew Gardens Road was evacuated as were a doctor's office and a law office on the same floor. Nine people were inside Weiner's office at the time. The workers were decontaminated as a precaution.
In a statement, Weiner said his prime concern is the safety of his staff and others in the area.
"Earlier today an envelope containing white powder and a threatening letter was delivered to my community office in Kew Gardens. The NYPD was immediately alerted and have responded appropriately by sending a Haz-Mat team," the statement read. "My first priority is the safety of my staff and neighbors, and the authorities are currently taking steps to investigate and resolve the situation."
The NYPD, the FBI and other emergency management officials responded as a precaution, spokesmen for the agencies say. Weiner's Kew Gardens office will be closed pending the completion of the investigation.
NYPD spokesman Marc Nell said the note was handwritten, contained white powder "and field tests conducted by the Emergency Service Unit determined the material to be non-hazardous."
FBI spokesman Rich Kolko said the FBI was treating the case as a threat against the congressman. "The communication in the letter could be deemed threatening. It was related to the health care but would be inappropriate to say more at this time."
The package sent to Weiner's office, which was postmarked in New York, may be the latest in a series of threats directed against Democratic Congress members who voted to overhaul the U.S. health care system.
At least four Democratic offices in New York, Arizona and Kansas were struck and at least 10 members of Congress have reported some sort of threats, including obscenity-laced phone messages, congressional leaders have said. No arrests have been reported.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday condemned vandalism and threats against members of Congress who voted to overhaul the U.S. health care system. Republicans joined in, telling people to calm down and saying they too were being targeted in an increasingly venomous political atmosphere.
"I don't want this to be a distraction" to the work of Congress, Pelosi said. But she also asserted that such violence and threats of reprisal have "no place in a civil debate in our country" and must be rejected.
Her sentiments were echoed minutes later by House Republican leader John Boehner, who said that while many are angry over the health care measure, "threats and violence should not be part of a political debate."
The House's No. 3 Republican, Eric Cantor of Virginia, said at a brief news conference Thursday that someone fired a bullet through a window of his campaign office in Richmond this week and he has received threatening e-mails.
Responding to Democrats who have accused Republicans of being too slow to condemn the attacks against lawmakers, he stressed that security threats are not a partisan issue. "To use such threats as political weapons is reprehensible," he said.
The actions against Democrats have included racial slurs thrown at black lawmakers, e-mail and phone death threats and bricks thrown through regional office windows.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat and chairwoman of an influential House committee, said someone had left her a voice mail that used the word "snipers."
On the Republican side, the office of Rep. Jean Schmidt of Ohio released a tape of a profanity-laced phone message in which the caller said Republicans were racists and, referring to an accident two years ago when Schmidt was hit by a car while jogging, said, "you should have broke your back, b... ."
Senate Sergeant at Arms Terry Gainer told The Associated Press Thursday that there was "no evidence that annoying, harassing or threatening telephone calls or emails are coordinated. Regrettably though, bloggers and twitters seem to feed off each other, leaving little room for creativity."
At the news conference, Pelosi said it is "important for us to be able to express ourselves freely, not to diminish that in any way, but also to hit a standard that says some of the actions ... must be rejected."
But the California Democrat also said she did not "subscribe to the theory that these acts sprang from the comments of my colleagues."
The vandalism and threats surprised a researcher at a think tank that monitors extremist groups.
"I think it is astounding that we are seeing this wave of vigilantism," said Mark Potok of the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center.
Reporting by Jonathan Dienst, Melissa Russo and Alice McQuillan