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9/11 Cop Dies Just as His Son, Clinton's Guest, Faces Bush

AP | January 24, 2007
DEVLIN BARRETT

A former New York policeman died late Tuesday in a Manhattan hospital, just as his 21-year-old son prepared to appear at the State of the Union speech to symbolize the desperate health problems of his father and other sick Sept. 11 workers.

The former officer, Cesar Borja, 52, had been in intensive care, breathing through a tube, at Mount Sinai Medical Center, awaiting a lung transplant. Hospital spokeswoman Lauren Woods confirmed the death late Tuesday.

"He did pass on," Woods said.

His son, college student Ceasar Borja Jr., was invited by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., to attend President Bush's speech as a reminder to the president of workers who were stricken with a host of illnesses after exposure to toxic World Trade Center debris.

The younger Borja learned of his father's death in a phone call while eating dinner around 6:30 p.m. He still planned to attend the speech.

The son's comments earlier in the day showed he was aware of just how critical his father's health situation had become -- and why it was still important for him to speak out in Washington.

"It's a very emotional time, and it's very difficult," said the son. "My father is a symbol of those in need, in desperation."

The Hunter College student said he came to Washington to make the point that there are many more whose lives are threatened by their exposure at ground zero.

"9/11 is not over. It didn't end in 2001. It is still affecting my father and numerous other first responders," he said. "My father is an extreme example of what can happen and what may and will happen in the future."

Clinton and other New York lawmakers have been urging the government for years to pay for treating Sept. 11-related illnesses.

While Democrats now control both chambers of Congress and have the power to pass and amend budget bills, the New York Democrats, who included Clinton and Sen. Charles Schumer, said the responsibility lay principally with the Republican White House.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes the site of the 2001 terror attacks, had the strongest language for Bush and the New York mayor.

"The villains are no longer the terrorists. The villains live in the White House and in Gracie Mansion," said Nadler, referring to the official home of the mayor of New York.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was in the city for a mayors' gathering on illegal guns, dismissed Nadler's attack.

"He'll have to speak for his own actions," said Bloomberg.

Rep. Peter King, a Long Island Republican who has signed on to the mayor's gun effort, said Nadler's comments crossed the line.

"That's the kind of rhetoric that doesn't help anybody," King said. "I agree that more should be done for 9/11 victims, but to be using language like that serves no purpose."

Even as several of the city's Democrats bashed Republicans, they said they could not guarantee that, now that their party is in power, the Congress would pass legislation paying for Sept. 11 health treatment.

"We certainly can't promise it," said Nadler, adding the issue would be decided by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "If I were the speaker, yeah, it would be in the budget."

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-Manhattan, was more optimistic but still could not guarantee the Democratic Congress would pass such a bill this year.

"I believe we will be successful," said Maloney. "We will fight till the last dog dies."

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