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NY Post - 4/13/02

OUTRAGED AT 9/11 SNUB PUSHES SENATOR
TO FLIP ON MEDALS
By BRIAN BLOMQUIST
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PATRICK LEAHY

April 13, 2002 -- WASHINGTON - Sen. Patrick Leahy flip-flopped under fire yesterday and agreed to take up a bill next week that would give Medal of Valor awards to the 9/11 heroes.

The abrupt turnaround came after The Post reported yesterday that the pol had decided to kill the medal plan by refusing to set a date to vote on the Medal of Valor bill, even though the House voted 409-0 to pass it nearly six months ago.

Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the powerful Judiciary Committee, relented and announced he'll support the legislation after talking with several upset New York lawmakers - and getting flooded with complaints at his office.

Walter Seltzer, who worked in Fuji Bank in the World Trade Center and watched firefighters climb to their deaths, was steamed it took so long.

"The firemen and policemen didn't wait for a committee, a proper committee. These guys didn't wait. They went right in," Seltzer said. "To hold up a medal for some perceived procedure, it was just getting me sick."

Before the reversal, Leahy's aides told The Post the senator was against the House bill because it leapfrogs the established review process, in which a panel of 11 firefighters, cops and emergency workers would consider each award.

But the New York lawmakers charged that the brave, tragic response to Sept. 11 cried out for a special exception.

Bob Straub, a trustee with the New York Uniformed Firefighters Association, said he was "upset with the bureaucratic nonsense" that delayed the medals legislation but is pleased his fallen brothers will be honored with the highest public-safety medal in the land.

Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens), who lost his firefighter cousin on Sept. 11, said the awards will "recognize the supreme sacrifice that was made on Sept. 11."

Hours after talking with Leahy, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) yesterday said, "They deserve to be recognized and remembered in every possible way."

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) said it was "good news" that Leahy agreed to back the bill.

Leahy called Crowley, Schumer and Clinton yesterday to assure them the medals bill would move in his committee on Thursday.

"This needed a little jolt, which The Post gave it," Crowley said.

Leahy's aides claimed the senator wasn't against giving medals to the 9/11 heroes but initially preferred sending the awards through a review panel because that was the way the original law was set up.