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9/11 Sparked New Activists With Varied Paths

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
John Feal (right), a first responder to ground zero on 9/11, gets a fist bump from Sen. Charles Schumer as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand looks on before a news conference to promote legislation dealing with radio airwaves in emergencies.

With a second battle won, Feal has set his sights on future opportunities, advocating legislation that would reserve wireless spectrum for first responders so they can more easily communicate in disaster situations.

Feal also said he plans to run for Congress in 2014 as a Democrat. He said he would establish residency in New Jersey because his Congressman, Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), and the Members in neighboring districts have become some of his best allies and friends.

Mary Fetchet, an activist whose 24-year-old son, Brad, was killed on 9/11, spent the early part of the decade working for the establishment of the 9/11 commission.

“It was like quicksand — once you were there, you were there for years,” Fetchet said. “We became subject matter experts in a lot of areas like intelligence reform and information sharing.”

She parlayed her experiences and new contacts into another large operation. Today her organization, VOICES of September 11th, helps provide social services to about 13,000 families affected by the attacks.

Another activist, Charlie Wolf, whose wife, Katherine, was killed on 9/11, was one of the most prominent critics of Ken Feinberg’s management of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

“He was a gadfly but a constructive force,” Feinberg said.

Still a familiar name in Washington, Wolf met last month with Attorney General Eric Holder to lobby for an investigation into allegations that the phone lines of families of 9/11 victims had been hacked, along with hundreds of others, by the British tabloid News of the World.

But others, like the Jersey Girls — the four widowed women from the New Jersey suburbs who became the public face of the family-led crusade for the commission — are noticeably absent.

“The commission would not have been appointed without them because it was opposed by the president and by a number of leaders in Congress,” said former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean (R), who, as chairman of the 9/11 commission, heard from them regularly. “When we were being stonewalled, they were our ground troops.”

“I’m in New Jersey now and I have not seen them in years — literally,” he said.

The women, once media savvy, did not return Roll Call’s requests for interviews and have been relatively silent for years. Several of the activists they worked with described a sense of disenchantment after the commission issued its report.

“The memory of 9/11 was diminishing,” said Carol Ashley, who picketed Congressional offices, managing much of the research for the team of activists led by the Jersey Girls. “Our influence was diminishing.”

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