A retired Queens firefighter declined an invitation by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) to attend the State of the Union address in Washington Tuesday.
Bob Beckwith, formerly of Ladder Co. 117 in Astoria and Ladder Co. 164 in Douglaston, had been tapped by the congresswoman to be in the audience during President George W. Bushs speech as a protest against the withholding of federal funds to study the health of rescue workers at Ground Zero.
The Uniformed Firefighters Association selected Beckwith at Maloneys request as a representative. Beckwith told the Daily News he did not realize the invitation came from a Democrat.
The Long Island resident, who retired from the Fire Department about eight years ago, told the News that as a Republican he did not want to embarrass the president. Beckwith could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Beckwith has already done a great service to the nation, not only in responding to the disaster with his fellow firefighters, but in making this issue more visible to the administration and to Congress, a spokesman for Maloney said.
If he feels that his fellow firefighters and rescue workers will better represent the issue in Washington, I support him, the spokesman quoted Maloney as saying.
Beckwith gained national attention when Bush was photographed with his arm around the former fireman during a post-Sept. 11 visit to the site where the Twin Towers had stood.
Though retired, Beckwith helped with rescue efforts at Ground Zero after the terror attacks.
The federal government has thus far only paid for a fraction of the rescue workers to participate in a health study by Mount Sinai Medical Center, according to Maloneys spokesman.
A total of eight emergency personnel were slated to attend the State of the Union speech.
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 146.
©2003 Community News Group
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