Angry 9/11 Responders: President Obama Offers Sympathy, But No Support

NY Daily News - December 04, 2009

by Michael Mcauliff

WASHINGTON - Angry Sept. 11 responders say President Obama has offered sympathy but no support for their appeal to champion their cause in Congress.

A group of 9/11 widows and rescue workers recently wrote Obama, asking his help to pass a bill that would fund care for ailing responders over the next 30 years.

Obama wrote back Tuesday, the Daily News has learned, saying he understands their plight and values their heroism.

"The individuals suffering health ailments from Sept. 11 and its aftermath deserve proper medical attention," the President wrote. "You served selflessly, and your concerns are of great importance to our country. I remain committed to supporting the heroes of Sept. 11."

But he left out whether he'd get behind the bill.

"It's a nice letter, and I will put it in my scrapbook," said former construction worker John Feal, who lost half a foot at Ground Zero. "But it's no more than a souvenir unless he supports that bill."

"We would have hoped for more," said Kenny Specht, an ex-FDNY lieutenant who survived cancer linked to 9/11, though he was glad Obama made a nod to the illnesses responders face.

The 9/11 health act stalled in the House behind health reform, which has since passed there. It hasn't moved in the Senate since Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand introduced it earlier this year.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi holds the key to progress in the House, but having Obama onboard "would be a tremendous help," said bill sponsor Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan).

Feal and Specht say if there's no progress by spring, they will shine a harsh light on Congress and the President, starting with a march from Ground Zero to Washington. "We will do a G.Z.-to-D.C. walk, a cancer survivor and a guy with half a foot," said Feal. "We will embarrass them."

A White House spokeswoman insisted Obama shares the goals of the bill, but didn't offer outright support for the legislation.