Andrew Cuomo, in what has become an annual event for the New York governor, led a motorcycle ride along the path of a New York City firefighter rescue team to commemorate the 16th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Cuomo was introduced by actor Robert De Niro at a luncheon at the Javits Center in Manhattan, just before the final leg of the motorcycle ride. De Niro said when he heard he would be speaking before members of a motorcycle gang, he expected the Hells Angels.
“You know, a group of aging dudes with rotting leather jackets and teeth,” De Niro quipped. “Not even close.”
De Niro’s speech was a light moment in the program, which honored the firefighters who responded when two hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center’s twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001. About 3,000 people lost their lives that day.
Cuomo, who rode with other motorcyclists along the same route that the Rescue 1 firefighters made that day, said the members of the company defied every natural human instinct when they raced toward danger instead of running away. Eleven members of the brigade died that day out of a total of 343 firefighters overall.
“The greatest cowards drove a plane into the top of the building, and the greatest heroes ran in the door in the bottom of the building,” Cuomo said. “The best and the worst of humanity in that very same moment.”
The governor said the aftereffects of 9/11 are not over, and many involved in the rescue efforts have been diagnosed with related illnesses, such as cancer and respiratory disease.
He signed a bill that will ensure unlimited sick leave benefits for public sector workers who became ill as a result of rescue, recovery and cleanup efforts at the World Trade Center sites.
“Any government employee who gets sick from anywhere in the state of New York and the sickness is related to their work on 9/11, they will get health care coverage at no cost to themselves. They will get vacation coverage and sick coverage at no cost to themselves, because they paid, literally, with their health,” Cuomo said.
The workers affected will get 100 percent of their regular salary at the time of their diagnosis for as long as they are out on sick leave.
“Sacrifice is a two-way street,” the governor said.