July 9, 2007
During her recent testimony on the low point of her tenure handling smoke and mirrors for Bush at the EPA, Christine Todd Whitman gave us a museum-quality example of moral clarity, conservative style.
The terrorists who executed the 9/11 attacks were the ones responsible for what happened on 9/11, she told the world with bracing conviction. Rudy Giuliani dropped the ball on handling the situation, she declared with inspiring clarity. And when Whitman was asked how she could have stood before the eyes of the world and declare that the toxin-laden air swirling around Ground Zero was safe to breathe, the former governor of New Jersey stood like Horatio at the bridge and told Congress — Hey, don’t blame me for any of that stuff.
John Vinciguerra, who suffered severe lung damage while helping clear the debris and search for survivors at Ground Zero, has more than a few words for Whitman:
When you are working 12-, 16-, and 24-hour-plus shifts for days at a time, you need to communicate, you need to drink fluids to hydrate, and you need to be able to eat if you want to keep searching and not become a victim yourself. It is much easier to do these things if you don’t have to wear a bulky respirator or ineffective paper mask that frequently clogs while trying to work.
When you are told the air is safe and it’s being monitored by the EPA, would you want to be able to work, coordinate and communicate to the best of your ability to try to save people, to try to save your friends? Or would you continue to work wearing a clogged mask? Or would you just call it a day and go home when no masks were available?
Whitman’s EPA allowed notices to the public to be monitored and changed by the White House. Whitman’s EPA released test data from areas that were already cleaned. Whitman now tells us the message to the public that the air was safe to breathe was not the same as the one for workers on “the pile.”
Whitman also claims to have told New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani that there was a danger on “the pile,” and it was the city that should be blamed for not passing along the information to rescue workers. Yet Whitman didn’t assume control of the site, even though the EPA should have been the lead agency from the beginning. I have a problem with that.
Since Whitman was in charge of the EPA at the time, she is ultimately responsible for the failures of the agency. Mistakes were made, and now many workers have to pay the price. For Whitman to say she wouldn’t do anything differently today means we haven’t learned from these mistakes. That is unconscionable.
The city of New York and the Bush administration wanted to lessen the economic blow to the area and wanted the city on its feet as quickly as possible. We were more worried about sending a message to the terrorists that they didn’t win than about keeping people safe. Guess what? We all lost. There were many unfortunate pawns in this game.
After the attacks, I, like many others, developed the “WTC cough.” I continued to work even as my illness changed, became more severe and required more and more medications. Finally in April 2005, I was hospitalized and no longer able to work.
I was left on my own to pay the doctor and hospital bills along with the medications while the city dragged its feet denying that this could possibly be related to my work at the WTC. I was forced to sell my home to try to keep my head above water while the city kept stalling. Finally last July, more than a year later and amid growing public outcry, the state of New York ruled in my favor and the city was ordered to pay for my bills and medications. While I now get my medications, the city has not paid my doctor and hospital bills, leaving my credit score in shambles and bill collectors calling my home at all hours.
This fight was caused by the arrogant attitude of the Bush administration that is more concerned with spending money to rebuild countries overseas than taking care of the sick and injured here. This is the same administration that gave Whitman her plum position at the EPA to begin with.
Actually, Mr. Vinciguerra, the Bushies aren’t rebuilding anything overseas. This is the Smash-And-Grab Administration, and its members leave huge, life-threatening messes everywhere they go. These people leave American cities and Middle Eastern nations in ruins. Leaving you and the other heroic Ground Zero workers to twist slowly in the lethal wind is no big deal to them.