In a Presidential campaign wrought with controversy, relatively speaking, few of us have any personal experience with the candidates to speak with any certainty about their character, their moral fiber. Unless we have direct experience with either one, we’ve nothing terribly conclusive to say one way or the other.
For me, there is only one candidate whom I’ve had personal experience with and that is Hillary Clinton. I met Hillary Clinton in September 2006 when she stepped up to me, shook my hand, and offered her sympathy for the suffering my husband and I had gone through due to Congress’s inability to follow through on President Bush’s promise to take care of the people of New York City after the World Trade Center disaster on 9/11/2001.
My husband, Steve, had just finished testifying before a Congressional hearing–testifying to, among others, New York State Congresswoman Hillary Clinton–about the lack of support for the federal workers who worked The Pile at Ground Zero and since became chronically ill. The hearing took place steps away from the site of the WTC disaster. Steve was ill. He was anxious. I was anxious, too, standing behind him, at the ready, should he need my assistance to get through his testimony, which he did. He and a dozen other people testified, each representing a slice of the population most affected by the aftermath of 9/11–whether it be the FDNY, local residents including all the school children forced too soon to return to local schools, Ground Zero clean-up crews for local businesses, etc. Steve came to represent himself and any other federal workers who might’ve worked The Pile and become ill. He came to say one thing, and it was effectively this . . . it seemed to him (and to me, for I absolutely shared his sentiment) that Congress was holding out so long in deciding on whether or not to care for all the people who’d become ill from the push to “get the city back up and running” at any cost, because they were hedging their bets that if they just waited long enough, the complaining people would die. Steve made it more personal, saying something along the lines of “It’s like a game to see whether you’ll pass the bill first or I’ll die first.”
Steve, at that time, having just been put on a liver transplant list, was so ill that he had trouble keeping his thoughts together, remembering where he’d left off. When he completely lost his train of thought, we had to stall for a half-minute so I could whisper in his ear what he’d last said to help him get back on track.
The moment Steve finished his testimony, Hillary Clinton was the first to speak into her microphone. She first thanked him for his decades of honorable service to the country. Then she delivered a most heartfelt apology “on behalf of the government” that their faithful servant had been ignored and mistreated. Steve and I both immediately got choked up and teary eyed. Five years of fighting the shame he was made to feel by his superiors because he was now ill and useless to them came rushing out of us. It was the first display of respect he’d received since 9/11 from anyone he’d considered his “upper management”–respect for all he’d done during his four months at Ground Zero and several years of undercover anti-terrorism work afterwards. Hillary’s apology came at a time when we had already lost hope. We were painfully alone by then, and we knew it. All the government did for everyone ill after 9/11 is say No. Despite George Bush promising up and down to do right by the people of New York City, neither Congress nor President Bush did anything to pass the bill necessary to support the people of New York. Since 9/11, few voices spoke out on behalf of the tens of thousands seriously affected by the disaster and the hundreds that by 2006 died while waiting, and the loudest of those voices was Hillary Clinton.
When the hearing was over, Hillary walked off the stage and directly over to me. She not only shook my hand and apologized, but from one woman to another, held my hand in a most caring way and sincerely spoke her words. She then walked over to Steve, caught up in conversation behind me, and did the same, talking with him for a few minutes, all the while holding his hand. Afterwards, we were so touched by her actions, we simply cried, releasing the significant pain we felt since trying to get help for Steve after 9/11.
After the hearing, Hillary Clinton went on to fight and win important victories for all those directly affected by 9/11. Congress eventually passed the bill critical for their proper care, but not without diminishing its effect by slapping on a short-term time stamp to it. It was Jon Stewart who joined Clinton’s effort who helped to shame Congress into permanently reinstating the bill in 2015. Months after the bill was finally made permanent, Steve died.
There isn’t anything I can say with certainty about either presidential candidate other than what I know from my personal experience. And that experience tells me that on occasion, a politician can actually be true to their word. Hillary Clinton has been the rare, personal proof of that in my life. On that day, she even convinced Steve, a staunch Republican, of the same.
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