Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Fired Up (Or Fooled) By Bush?

The Village Voice covers the very strange endorsement of George Bush by the New York city firefighter’s union, the IAFF-affiliated Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA), which occurred during the Republican convention, drowining out news of the 50,000 union members who marched against Bush that same day.

What’s the payoff? According to Rudy SanFilippo, one of two UFA delegates to oppose the Bush endorsement, the implicit message behind the union's move was that the White House and/or Pataki would use their influence to help the union win the city contract it has been seeking for more than a year. But at what cost?

Say this about leaders of the city firefighters' union and their timely endorsement of George W. during the Republican convention: They didn't let past slights get in the way.

In the weeks and months after the collapse of the World Trade Center, firefighters who had dug through the wreckage looked warily at the dust clinging to boots and clothes. Federal officials had declared the air quality safe, but suspicions lingered. Many suffered from deep, hacking coughs, and protective masks were in short supply. The same ominous dust was tracked into their firehouses. But when firefighters asked the Environmental Protection Agency to send in the same professional cleanup crews that it had dispatched to offices and apartments around the Trade Center, the EPA refused. Firehouses didn't meet the program's criteria, officials said.

Firefighters later learned from the report by the EPA's own inspector general that the air quality assurances were doctored by unnamed White House aides, who deleted cautionary warnings and inserted upbeat language. The suspicions about the dust were also confirmed. In a report released last month by the Sierra Club, studies found that the grime on firefighters' boots contained toxic chemicals at a level more than 400 times the threshold required by the federal government for a soil cleanup.
The long-term effect on the health of firefighters and others remains to be seen. Some 332 firefighters have developed the "World Trade Center cough"—an innocent-sounding name for a phenomenon that leaves its victims wheezing and gasping for breath. According to the Sierra Club, one firefighter was diagnosed as suffering from a condition called acute eosinophilic pneumonia. In his lungs, doctors found metal particles, silica, and degraded glass, along with 300 times the amount of asbestos fibers considered "a significant risk for asbestosis."

Again, government officials have balked. A bill that would enhance pensions for cops and firefighters who participated in the rescue effort and who later suffered similar ailments was vetoed last year by Governor Pataki. Passed again by the legislature this session, it remains unsigned.

Yet none of those uncomfortable questions were raised this month when George W. Bush, accompanied by Pataki, showed up at the single most prized photo op of the Republican convention: the president's sit-down at a Queens Boulevard club with firefighters, who bestowed on him the eagerly sought endorsement of the city's 9,000-member Uniformed Firefighters Association.

But not all NY firefighters are supporting Bush: Peter Gorman, president of the city's 2,600-member Uniformed Fire Officers Association, which endorsed Kerry,
was arrested in November 2001 when he and others protested Mayor Giuliani's decision to curb efforts to retrieve victims' remains, is still rankled by the EPA cover-up of air quality hazards. "They falsified records to say the air was safe. I understand that under national security you might withhold that information for a few days, but that secret was uncovered two years later. There was no reason for that, and nobody has explained why it was done or who ordered it. The president certainly hasn't."
Hmm. Maybe the UFA is using the Professional Air Traffic Controllers (PATCO) as its model. PATCO, you may remember, endorsed Ronald Reagan for president in 1980 – and regretted it all the way to their early grave.