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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Hosts Zadroga Act Celebration

January 9, 2016

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Jon, thank you for all you did in this fight. A lot of us for many years hung on your every word in that other phase of your life when you were on television. And I think you were one the great – were, and are, one of the great social commentators of our time – one of the great comedians of our time – but I believe you are an even better activist, and you get a share of the credit here too for this great victory.


This is something extraordinary. The word extraordinary is necessary but for two reasons – one, an extraordinary fight – everyone in this room was a part of this victory – a long, difficult fight. And when it’s an uphill battle, and when there’s horrible misunderstanding, and stinginess, and all sorts of other factors in your way, but you overcome all that through persistence and because you had right on your side – that’s an extraordinary victory. You had all sorts of politics in your way, but you overcame it. But it’s extraordinary too – something Jon and I were talking when we were coming in – it’s extraordinary because it’s a fight that should not have to have been fought. You know that part of our founding document that says we hold these truths to be self-evident? Supporting our heroes should be self-evident. Supporting people who put their lives on the line for us should be a no-brainer, it should be non-partisan, it should be a layup, but it wasn’t – not this year or in year’s past. So, you had to fight. And we honor everyone today – we honor Ray in particular for being a leader among leader, but we honor everyone because you never gave up that fight. You understood it was self-evident, but still you had to fight.

72,000 people – okay, maybe we would have understood if it was just a handful of people – but 72,000 heroes – people who depended on the World Trade Center health program. And now, finally, because of everyone’s efforts here, and particularly because of Ray’s leadership, all 72,000 get to wake up in the morning and not have that horrible pervasive worry about their future. They don’t have to wonder what’s going to happen next to them and their families, because they did the right thing when it was their moment to stand up. They’ll have the care they need for as long as they need it. What should have been from day one finally is true now. They’ll have the full faith and backing of the United States of America. It only happened because of all of you.

There is no way to compare the extraordinary sacrifice, the intense bravery, the courage, the awesome sacrifice of those who were part of the rescue and recovery, versus the small contribution that our government is making to them. But we still see the justice in this action, and [inaudible] recognize that the heroes who put their lives on the line were part of this victory. And there were other heroes – folks who don’t always get the respect they deserve, but, in this case, elected officials, and community leaders, and well-known figures in our society stood up and did the right thing, and were relentless about it. So, it is humbling to be in the presence of so many people who did so much good – our first responders, the survivors, the activists, the elected officials, the advocates who never stopped fighting. It’s one of those moments to realize that the good guys can win the day, but it took so much effort, so much fight – but it was worth it. 

We’re here in this beautiful hall today, that represents all that’s good about this city, and I want to thank all our colleagues at the City Council for hosting us here in their chambers – Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and all the members of the council who were vividly involved, actively involved in this fight alongside all of you, and we want to thank them for their advocacy. We want to thank some great leaders who could not be with us today, but their presence is dearly felt for all they did – Senator Gillibrand, and Congresswoman Maloney, and so many others who were part of this fight. We want to thank Dan Nigro, who you heard from a moment ago, our extraordinary fire commissioner who was there that day, leading the men and women of the FDNY in the middle of that horrible, tragic day. We want to thank former Commissioner Sal Cassano, for all he’s done – Jimmy O’Neill, chief of department in the NYPD. We want to thank our members of Congress who just would not stop. They kept fighting day-in and day-out, and it was bipartisan. I want to thank Jerry Nadler just as much as I want to thank Pete King – they were there shoulder-to-shoulder. 


I want to thank Nydia Velazquez for being steadfast. 


Bipartisan also in our legislature in Albany – Senator Marty Golden, Assembly Member Peter Abbate – I want to thank them for their good work.


Two people get a special thanks because when we were ready to give this good man the key to the city – and I don’t know anyone who deserves it more than Ray – but I do want to note, since Jon made that point about he’s going to have it too – someone check the Chrysler Building tomorrow morning. Make sure there’s nothing wrong.


But we would not be able to have this great even today if it weren’t for two leaders who really made it happen – Borough President Gale Brewer, Council Member Margaret Chin – we thank you for that.


We thank the union leaders. There are so many who were crucial in this fight. Two of them here today – I want to thank Steve Cassidy, president of the UFA, and Izzy Miranda, president of the Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics, and Fire Inspectors. 


We thank advocates who worked tirelessly – Catherine McVay Hughes, for the great work she did. And a shy retiring guy – you probably never heard from him, but he worked hard. I just wish he had a little more personality, a little more colorful presentation – John Feal, thank you for all you did. 


And we not only thank all of Ray’s family, all of his friends, all of his colleagues, all the people who are here because they know and love him, I want to do a special thank you, because not only is Caryn Pfeiffer his wonderful wife and the mother of his wonderful children, it is her birthday today. Let’s give Caryn a big round of applause.


Everyone who was part of the rescue and the recovery – everyone who was part of putting this city back on its feet – we’re honoring all of them today. Remember those days? Remember how much we didn’t know what the future held? We didn’t know what it would take to recover. We didn’t know what the possibilities were because those moments felt so dire. So many people – firefighters, cops, sanitation workers, EMTs – so many people were part of putting us back to who we are today, and it’s important to remember all of them. It’s a proud day for people who will never be famous, but did things so worthy. People like Jaime Hazan – a volunteer EMT with lung disease who said – and this is such a powerful statement – “I’ve volunteered my whole life and I didn’t have to be at Ground Zero, but I love my city, I love my country. I never imagined it would kill me.” That summarizes what so many have been through.

It’s a proud day for Jennifer McNamara and her son John. Jennifer’s husband and Jack’s father – excuse me, my apologies – her son Jack. Jennifer’s husband and Jack’s father, John McNamara, worked over 500 hours at Ground Zero. In 2006, when Jennifer was pregnant with Jack, he was diagnosed with colon cancer – John was diagnosed with colon cancer and passed away in 2009.

So, we remember everyone who contributed, whether they’re still here with us or not. But we honor one man and we honor him because he exemplifies all that was good about those who served and all that was good about those who fought for justice after – and giving out the key to the city is one of the extraordinary things the mayor gets to do, one of the truly special things. I can’t think of anyone who deserves it more than Ray Pfeifer. The key to the city was made for people like Ray Pfeifer.

Let me take a little trip down memory lane – John gave you a flavor of who this man is. I want to see him blush here though, so, I’m going to tell you a little more.


February 17, 1987 – a great day for this city. That was the day Ray joined the FDNY – and every day after, he wore his uniform with pride just as he does today – with pride, with love, with commitment – and 9/11 was no different. For a week after that horrible day, Ray slept on his fire truck. He was on Ground Zero for the next eight months scouring the debris.

People asked him why he stayed. His answer was painful but simple – to find his friends. And that determination, that single-mindedness, that was inspiring. It was inspiring to everyone around him and it was a reminder of what commitment looks like and you can see it in the months and years after, as he fought cancer, and you could see it in the halls of Washington. There is a famous saying about Ray, that he walked 140 miles through the halls of Congress – that’s how relentless he was. It didn’t matter if he was in pain, it didn’t matter if it was a difficult task, it was something he felt he had to do for an entire generation of first responders and survivors.

And you all know there were some moments where it did not look like a victorious fight. You all know there were moments where you had every right to be discouraged. Ray is not particularly familiar with the notion of being discouraged. He just stuck with it. He knew it was his calling – and it’s not the first time he felt a calling. I mentioned the day he joined the FDNY, well, long before, even when he was a small boy, he felt the calling to be a firefighter. His father was a volunteer firefighter – used to take Ray to the fire house and Ray helped to clean the fire trucks and he felt like he belonged there – and he was so convinced he was going to be a fire fighter, he had a toy fire truck he played with and he insisted that his sisters put their Barbie dolls on the fire truck.


He was a leader very early on, you can see. He would make people do the right thing. His mother instilled in him a spirit of kindness. She said to him and his six siblings, “If you smile at just one person, you might just change their whole day.” So, you can see where that grace came from.

And that spirit is as strong as ever. He’s put not only that great energy into winning this legislation, he poured it into a beautiful 1946 fire truck that his brother Joe bought him after his cancer diagnosis. And because it’s Ray, he didn’t just keep it to himself and admire it, he decided to turn it into a mobile work of art for the entire community.

Hundreds of people put their love into that truck because they love Ray. They fixed it up, gave it a new coat of paint, and ever since, been on a mission, spreading joy wherever, spreading hope to schools where kids are taught about fire safety – rides given to kids with cancer, autism – and brightening the days of folks who have gone through tough times – our wounded warriors and burn victims. Wherever that truck goes, its brings the Pfeifer spirit with it – and that spirit, by the way, as you heard, his father and his mother deserve a lot of credit but it obviously is now running in the family. Ray’s son, Terence, who was just ten on 9/11, is now a member of FNDY’s EMS Station 54.

Give him a round of applause.


But wait, there’s more. His daughter, Taylor, aspires to join the NYPD, and I know she’s going to get there.


So, we’re going to celebrate today a great man, a great family, a great victory.

Before I formally present the key, I just want to say a few words in Spanish.

[Mayor speaks in Spanish]

I just want to say to everyone who was a part of this fight, God bless you for all you’ve done, God bless New York City, and God Bless America. This is a day to celebrate


John Feal: [Inaudible].

Mayor: John, what did you just say?


John Feal: You don’t want me to –

Mayor: We’re not repeating what John Feal said. That wouldn’t be the first time.

You ready brother?

Ray Pfeifer: Yep. Sorry with the leg.

Mayor: No worries. No worries. Take your time brother.

Pfeifer: I’m good.

Mayor: Alright, here we go. It is my honor to present the key to the City of New York to Ray Pfeifer.


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