NY Daily News, July 28, 2009
WASHINGTON — First responders from 9/11 can accept if Republicans don’t vote for a bill to help ailing Ground Zero workers, but they say rudeness is another matter. Several victims of the terror attacks who have become advocates on behalf of other ill responders say they were treated poorly when they called some Capitol Hill Republicans in hopes of getting them to back a measure coming up for a committee vote Wednesday.
"One office said, ‘Why do you people keep calling us? Leave us alone,’" said Charlie Giles, 41, from Barnegat, N.J. "‘You people?’ That is a disgrace from a congressman’s office."
Giles, a Republican, said his rounds of calls — and GOP opposition to a bill to reopen the Sept. 11 Victims’ Compensation Fund — left him so angry he’s ready to denounce his party when he and other responders take a bus to the Capitol Wednesday.
"I’ll bring my Republican card, and show it to them," he said. "If I have to tear it into a million pieces in front of them, I will."
Giles, who was an EMT on Sept. 11, 2001, singled out the offices of Reps. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) and Thomas Rooney (R-Fla.), as did other angry responders. They said their reactions from other members of the GOP was better. Spokespeople for both congressmen said they were not aware of any problems with callers, and insisted they provide unfailingly polite and helpful service. In one instance, a spokesperson for Forbes thought an intern may have annoyed someone by offering to take their name and see if an appointment could be arranged.
“If someone felt they were mistreated, we apologize,” said Rooney spokesman Jeff Ostermayer. “Our office treats everyone who calls with courtesy and respect.”
Daily News calls to their offices were answered politely, but a worker in Rooney’s office said she couldn’t answer a question about the bill, and transferred the call to a Democratic committee office without saying that’s what she was doing.
"They were just cold," said Glen Klein, 50, a retired city detective, "like you’re interrupting their lunch or something like that." Klein, of Centereach, L.I., spent nine months working at Ground Zero and is collecting Social Security disability.
James O’Connell, 50, an ex-Army man who recently survived a suicide attempt he blames on his 9/11 suffering, said he couldn’t understand the reception he got.
“They were at the very least, conduct unprofessional,” he said. “I don’t get politicians. I thought 9/11 was something that affected all Americans. I thought it was nonpartisan. I’m just baffled by the conduct of all these people,” he said, adding that it wasn’t just about his treatment on the phone that bothers him. “There was such great unity in the country after 9/11 and I don’t understand why in 2009 people are dying and nobody cares,” he said.
- Michael McAuliff