Firefighter drops out of protest on 9/11 aid


Bob Beckwith has backed out.

The retired city firefighter President Bush tossed his arm around at Ground Zero in the days after the terrorist attacks said yesterday he won't go to Washington as planned to pressure the White House to help ailing rescue workers.

As much as Beckwith would like to see $90 million in federal health funds released, he said he dislikes the politics that had him ticketed for tomorrow's State of the Union address.

"I decided not to go," Beckwith said. "I didn't know that I was taking a seat from a Democrat. I'm a Republican. I'm not going to change parties. I'm not going to embarrass anybody."

Beckwith said his presence in the House chambers tomorrow would have done just that - embarrass the President.

He added that there were no calls from the White House pressuring him to stay home.

Beckwith ended up with a ticket to the State of the Union last week when Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) invited the Uniformed Firefighters Association to send a member to the President's speech.

Her goal was to protest the White House's refusal to release the $90 million to monitor the health of Ground Zero laborers.

The aid has been tied up in a battle between Bush and the New York congressional delegation.

The money was to be included in the overall post-Sept. 11 aid package promised to New York. But it was shifted to a separate $5.1 billion spending plan that Bush rejected last August because he opposed other items in the plan.

Some $12 million that the federal government has given to the health program will be depleted in July. Only 9,000 of an estimated 35,000 rescue workers will be able to be screened.

'An American problem'

About half of the 2,500 workers seen suffer from respiratory problems and other ailments.

While Beckwith won't go to Washington, at least four Ground Zero workers will.

"We are not going to blame the President or anyone else," said Philip McArdle, the health and safety officer for the firefighters union. "This isn't a Democratic or Republican problem. This is an American problem. We're interested in fixing the problem."

Beckwith's brief ties to the issue did win it national attention.

White House chief of staff Andrew Card said on NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday that if the health funds end up in this fiscal year's federal budget, they would be distributed.

The Senate version of the budget contains the money. The House version does not.

Originally published on January 27, 2003