As we near the 9/11 anniversary, again, let us all take a moment to remember that the junior senator from New York made it a personal mission to ensure rescue workers and others affected by the poisoned air of above Ground Zero were not ignored by their government—during a time when ignoring them was the defacto position of that government. There’s tapes of that, by the way.
The Clinton who emerges from the WNYC tapes is passionate, raw and unrestrained. Above all, she is livid. She had just learned that the Bush administration instructed officials of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reassure New Yorkers after 9/11 that the air over Ground Zero was safe. In fact, they had a pretty good idea that it was a toxic pall of asbestos, cement, glass dust, heavy metals, fuels and PCBs.“I am outraged,” Clinton went on. “In the immediate aftermath, the first couple of days, nobody could know. But a week later? Two weeks later? Two months later? Six months later? Give me a break!”
Survivors from the attacks who met Clinton at the time tell now-familiar stories: she genuinely cared about them, she followed up afterward, she had an impressive command of detail, and she was relentless in twisting arms in the recalcitrant system until it delivered results.
By April 2004 the program had grown to a $90m fund offering three free medical exams a year to 50,000 first responders and residents of lower Manhattan. In 2010, Clinton having passed on the baton to her successor in the US senate, Kirsten Gillibrand, reluctant Republicans in Congress were cajoled into passing the $4bn Zadroga Act, covering the health costs of those impaired by the toxic fumes. Last year the program was extended for 75 years, and now serves 65,000 emergency responders and almost 10,000 9/11 resident survivors.
No matter what else you might think about Hillary Clinton, this was one of her most effective campaigns. It’s still embarrassing that it was necessary, however.