WASHINGTON -- Democrats are slamming the GOP candidate trying to replace ex-New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, criticizing the Queens-bred businessman as an "embarrassment" for suggesting rescue and recovery volunteers should not be included in the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.
"I probably couldn't go home if I didn't support the Zadroga bill. I have firemen in my family, but is that bill beyond criticism? No," Republican Bob Turner told the New York Daily News, just two weeks before the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
"I think it is a little too broad," Turner said of the bill. "My call would be to protect police, fire, emergency workers, construction workers, etc... If someone said, 'I volunteered' or walked through there, it's just not the type."
Turner was a surprisingly close 6 points behind Democrat David Weprin in the special election race, according to a recent Siena poll, and Democrats pounced on the remarks.
“I'm absolutely appalled by the fact that anyone would oppose assistance for the brave volunteers who sacrificed their own health -- and in, some cases, lives -- to help victims and clean up Ground Zero," said Weprin. "Mr. Turner's criticism of the 9/11 Zadroga Health Bill is an embarrassment to New York."
"Bob Turner's blatant disregard for the sacrifices made by volunteers in the aftermath of 9/11 is outrageous and offensive," added a statement from two of the bill's lead sponsors, Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.). "These brave men and women put themselves at risk to help their fellow New Yorkers and the very least we can do is to support them in their efforts to combat the injuries and illnesses sustained during their rescue efforts."
Turner spokesman William O'Reilly said there was no question that the businessman-turned-candidate supported 9/11 responders, and would have voted for the Zadroga bill. He insisted that Turner was simply pointing out that the bill lacks enough protections against fraud.
“He has firefighters and 9/11 volunteers in his family and throughout his neighborhood," said O'Reilly. "Any suggestion that volunteers should not be covered is patently inaccurate. He criticized its lack of protections against fraudulent claims when the bill was being debated a year ago, but he would have voted for it with both hands."
Still, O'Reilly emphasized that Turner does not think the bill is perfect.
"He would have preferred some mechanism to verify volunteers, but that may have proved too difficult to do," O'Reilly allowed. "The bill was imperfect, but he would have supported it."
Although Weiner was not the prime mover behind the Zadroga bill, he was one of its most vocal and visible champions. His constituents largely approved Weiner's stance on the bill, and Democrats think Turner's remarks will place him out of step with his largely Democratic district.
UPDATE 8:30 p.m.
Turner got support, however, from another author of the 9/11 bill, Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
“I helped write the Zadroga Bill and I’ve talked to Bob Turner about it at length," King said in a statement provided by the campaign. "He has always supported Zadroga for volunteers, cops and firefighters alike."