State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) spoke with the TBR News Media on the eve of the 19th year since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
TBR: What do you think of when you reflect on 9/11 today?
Gaughran: When I think of 9/11, I obviously think of the heroism and the number of people I know who died. I certainly think of the police officers and the firefighters and the first responders who, without hesitancy, ran right into those buildings. Probably, some of them knew they were going to get killed. Maybe others figured it was another day when they were going to try to save people.
TBR: Who is the first person you think of in connection with 9/11?
On Sept. 11, 2019, Gov. Cuomo signs 9/11 bill, sponsored by N.Y. State Sen. Jim Gaughran.
Gaughran: Since I have been in the senate, the first person that comes to mind more than anyone else is Tim DeMeo, who is a constituent of mine, who was working for the Department of Environmental Conservation. He was in charge of dealing with oil spills, other contaminated sites and other hazardous clean ups. He was in Manhattan, driving over the Brooklyn Bridge to Brooklyn, when the plane crashed. He got a call, “You should turn around, go back to Manhattan. This is something we’ll have to deal with.”
He turned around. The second plane crashed. He was permanently injured by debris. He stayed there. The next day and the next day, throughout [the clean-up] with all the other heroes…
He worked alongside police and firefighters and others working at the scene. He got very sick. He was not entitled to the same disability retirement benefits that everybody else was who was there. The way the state legislature wrote the bill, it was written so it would [be for] uniformed employees. He was not one of them. He was in the Department of Environmental Conservation. There were eight or nine other people like him. One of the first who came to see me in my district office, he came and told me a story … He said, “everybody else has been helped and I haven’t.”
He has significant medical issues. Attempts to pass a bill never went anywhere. I ended up writing a bill. We passed a bill last year, on 9/11. The Governor [Andrew Cuomo (D)] signed the bill.
It’s my proudest achievement so far. It didn’t help as many people as some of the other legislation I dealt with. I’m proudest of [that bill]. All these people were just as much heroes as everyone else. They were left out. New York was ignoring them.
TBR: How would you compare the heroism of first responders who raced to the burning buildings in Manhattan to the heroism of first responders and health care workers who have dealt with the ongoing unknowns and challenges from the pandemic?
Gaughran: I think it’s basically the same. A nurse or a doctor or a firefighter or an EMT who picks up somebody and puts them in an ambulance and brings them to the hospital are doing this knowing they could easily contract COVID and face the same issues that people they are trying to help are facing. The risks are the same. Running into a burning building is a more immediate risk. Dealing with a sick COVID patient, who may give you the disease, you’re facing a risk that potentially could cost you your life.
TBR: Do you think the divisiveness of today will ease during 9/11?
Gaughran: I would hope so. I remember on 9/11, watching George W. Bush at the site, that iconic image, with the bull horn and everything. That wasn’t that long after the election. My kids were young. They paid attention to everything. [They said] “dad, you didn’t vote for him.” This is a moment when we all have to stand behind him. It was a different world then. It’s hard to get people to agree to the same thing today. The president we have now is not going out of his way to try to create national unity.