Ground Zero

A compassionate, enraged Hillary Clinton is revealed by 9/11 radio archives

Members of Congress tour ground zero at the World Trade Center disaster site, September 20, 2001. Foreground, L to R: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Majority Leader Tom Dashle (D-SD). (REUTERS/Mike Albans) HB/ - RTRN1ZY

Was Hillary Clinton’s behavior in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City a clue to what could be expected from a Clinton presidency? A fresh report by The Guardian and WNYC argues as much, saying the then-senator’s response to the attacks on the twin towers is a rich source of clues about her personal character, her domestic policy strengths and her tendency to “lean towards the hawkish side in international affairs.”

Listening back on audiotape from the time captures a far less controlled figure than the woman now in the throes of a run for president of the United States. “Passionate, raw and unrestrained,” is how her performance is described, as she went about reassuring first responders at the smoldering “pile” at Ground Zero, and later vigorously defending their access to health care for respiratory and other illnesses incurred in the line of duty. Primarily responsible to her “incandescent” rage, was the revelation the Environmental Protection Agency was instructed by the Bush administration to inform New Yorkers after 9/11 that the air over Ground Zero was safe, when it was in fact the opposite. Two years later, Clinton’s ire had not cooled — she remained “outraged.”

But in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, she is remembered by victims and responders for her compassion, her quick grasp of the potential health risks at the site, and her dogged defense of the workers who attended the scene. Philip Landrigan, who hosted the first World Trade Center medical program at Mount Sinai said, “She became deeply knowledgeable on the subject, not just fiscal and administrative details, but also about medical and mental health problems. She was a sponge for knowledge.”

Lauren Manning, who survived being engulfed by a fireball of jet fuel as she was entering an elevator to go up to her office on the 105th floor, remembers Clinton’s sincerity, during a visit to her rehabilitation hospital. “I was covered and swathed in bandages,” said Manning, “dealing with a great deal of pain, but she captured me with her eyes. They were wide open and expressive, and they remained on mine. She didn’t lose sight of what I was saying to her. To me, that was the mark of somebody who is sincere, who you want on your side.”

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: US Senator from New York Hillary Clinton (L) stands with World Trade Center attack survivor Lauren Manning (R) on the red carpet at the Glamour Magazine Women of the Year 2002 show in New York 28 October, 2002. Clinton presented Manning with a Woman of the Year award. AFP PHOTO Doug KANTER (Photo credit should read DOUG KANTER/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. Senator from New York Hillary Clinton (L) with World Trade Center attack survivor Lauren Manning (R) at the Glamour Magazine Women of the Year 2002 show. (DOUG KANTER/AFP/Getty Images)

Several of those interviewed acknowledged she has failed to convey this side of herself in the run-up to the presidential election in November. One said that as a senator, in the trenches or in person, she came across as effective and empathetic, but that that had not translated as forcefully at a national level.

Interestingly, firefighters — who then were well aware of Clinton’s support — are now thought to belong to the demographic of workers (white, blue collar) who might back Donald Trump. Richard Alles, a uniformed firefighter in September, 2001, who arrived at Ground Zero 20 minutes after the second tower collapsed, thinks the good work she did after 9/11 has faded from memory for many. “Younger fire officers aren’t aware of what she did as a senator,” he said. “While they were growing up all they heard was this bad stuff about Clinton — the damage has been done.”

And there is the persistently contentious issue of her vote in October 2002 to authorize the use of military force in Iraq — a response she has also said was predicated on her response to the attacks on New York.

The events of 9/11 “marked me, and made me feel [fighting terrorism] was my No. 1 obligation as a senator,” she later said.

Read the full story and listen to WNYC’s report here.

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