Clinton wins endorsement of city's firefighter unions


April 19, 2006, 1:49 PM EDT
New York City's two major firefighter unions announced Wednesday they were endorsing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's re-election bid, praising her work on their behalf after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that killed over three hundred firefighters and may have left many more with debilitating respiratory ailments.

"She's been a leader out front on World Trade Center health issues, and God knows New York City firefighters were exposed more than any other group and we appreciate it," said Steve Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. Cassidy presented Clinton with a bright blue UFA jacket outside a Brooklyn firehouse as Peter Gorman, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, looked on.

"I am honored to stand here with the representatives of the finest fire department in the entire world," Clinton said. "I'm deeply moved and very much impressed by the dedication, hard work and courage of firefighters of this city."

While polls show Clinton with a commanding lead over the two Republicans vying to challenge her -- former Reagan-era Pentagon official KT McFarland and former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer -- the unions' endorsement of Clinton is still significant.

Dubbed "New York's finest," firefighters attained nearly a mythic status in this city after the 9/11 attacks. Both unions endorsed Clinton's Republican opponent, former Rep. Rick Lazio, in the 2000 election, and they endorsed President Bush in 2004.

Cassidy shook off questions about those endorsements and their refusal to support Clinton six years ago.

"Firefighters are skeptical of everybody," he said. "In general, politicians have to win our support, and she has done that."

Among other things, Clinton has pressed for increased federal funding for research and treatment for emergency personnel and residents exposed to airborne contaminants after the 9/11 attacks.

The matter has taken on more urgency since last week, when a coroner ruled that the death of a 34-year old police detective from respiratory ailments had been directly related to his recovery work at the Trade Center site.

On other matters, Clinton again refused to say whether she planned to run for president in 2008, saying she remained focused on her re-election bid. And she did not say whether she believed embattled Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should resign, despite the calls from many retired generals for him to do so.

"That's for the president to decide. As far as I can tell, Secretary Rumsfeld is doing what the president wants him to do," Clinton said, adding that many decisions Bush and Rumsfeld have made about the conduct of the war "defy understanding."

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