By Michael Mcauliff, Kenneth R. Bazinet and Richard Sisk
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU
President Obama quietly signed the Zadroga bill Sunday and put into law a $4.3 billion commitment to help ailing 9/11 responders and volunteers.
Obama put his ornate signature to the legislation in private during his Hawaiian vacation, foregoing the usual fanfare of a major bill signing ceremony. But the friends of the bill's namesake were satisfied.
"It was a bittersweet battle and this is a bittersweet victory," said Joseph Zadroga, the father of James Zadroga, an NYPD detective who died of 9/11-related illnesses.
"It's been a long road," the father said, but "it finally got signed" and now the responders "get some help and recognition. I'm glad for them."
"We always had faith that the bill would get passed, despite some debate and some politics," said Mike Paladino, president of the New York City Detectives Endowment Association. "The U.S.A. has done the right thing."
James Zadroga, an NYPD detective who died of 9/11-related illnesses, was a member of Paladino's union.
At the residence on Oahu that has been dubbed the "winter White House," Obama signed the bill after a morning workout at a nearby Marine base.
Time was a factor in putting the bill into law. The 111th Congress that passed the measure will go out of existence at midnight Tuesday, and Obama had to sign before then or face having to get the bill passed all over again in the new Congress.
The low-key nature of the signing puzzled many in the New York 9/11 community.
"I don't get it," said John Feal, head of the FealGood 9/11 workers' advocacy group. "But it is what it is. We're just glad he got this done."
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), one of the main House sponsors of the bill with Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.), called the signing "a wonderful victory for 9/11 responders and survivors who have been waiting for help for nine long years."
The bill "will save lives and meet our moral obligation to help those who rise to the defense of America in a time of war," Maloney said.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that Obama's signature will make sure that "the heroes who rushed to Ground Zero in the hours and days after the attacks will not be forgotten." [See who donates the most money to Schumer.]
Many of the responders believed that Obama had been lukewarm in his support through the long struggle to get the bill passed, but Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said, "I commend President Obama for helping champion this effort."
Obama's signature opened up a new front in the fight over how the $4.3 billion bill, whittled down from $7.4 billion to get it passed, will be implemented.
The compensation and healthcare benefits don't kick in until July 1 and a special master has yet to be appointed to administer the law.
Those covered by the bill will include Ground Zero responders, volunteers and morgue employees as well as people who lived near Ground Zero, or worked or attended school nearby.
The package includes $1.5 billion for treatment of breathing disorders and mental health problems, and $2.8 billion in compensation for those affected.