WASHINGTON – Five outspoken Sept. 11 widows on Tuesday will publicly endorse John Kerry (search) for president, The Associated Press has learned, throwing their weight behind the Democratic challenger in a heated campaign debate over who is best suited to defend the nation from another terrorist attack.
Some, including Kristen Breitweiser, of Middletown, N.J., and Monica Gabrielle, of West Haven, Conn., also have agreed to make campaign appearances for the Democratic senator, campaign sources told the AP.
"We will be speaking from the heart, and speaking from our conscience," Breitweiser said Monday. She would not elaborate. Breitweiser is by far the most visible and outspoken of the Sept. 11 family advocates, and has been highly critical of the government's reform efforts to date.
The move highlights the widening political divide among the nearly 3,000 Sept. 11 families.
At the Republican National Convention (search) two weeks ago, two widows and the sister of another Sept. 11 victim offered moving tributes to their departed loved ones. The somber appearances offered no direct endorsement of President Bush (search), but their message of support was unmistakable.
Other relatives publicly have praised Bush's response to the attacks, even amid the displeasure of many families over an early Bush campaign ad that used images from the World Trade Center site.
Bush has made his response to the terrorist strike the centerpiece of his re-election campaign.
Three years after the attacks, most of the families agree on the need for reforms in how the government manages and conducts intelligence work. But they are split on what those changes should be and who should make them.
Some relatives, including Breitweiser, have promised to create a watchdog list to track any lawmakers who oppose reforms proposed by an independent, bipartisan commission that investigated the attacks.
The commission issued its report in July. Among its major recommendations are the creation of a national counterterrorism center and a new director of intelligence with Cabinet-level authority over budgets and intelligence policies. Congress is hurrying to enact some of the recommendations before its adjourns for the year, including Bush's support for creating the post of national intelligence director.
Kerry has said all of the recommendations should be adopted as quickly as possible.