Rep. Andrew Garbarino and House Speaker Mike Johnson.

Rep. Andrew Garbarino and House Speaker Mike Johnson. Credit: James Escher, AP / J. Scott Applewhite

Daily Point

LI reps show support for Johnson had a payoff

The advocates and survivors who’ve spent more than a decade fighting for funding for those with 9/11-related illnesses found an unlikely ally in their latest push to keep the World Trade Center Health Program financially viable.

House Speaker Mike Johnson.

After all, members of Congress from New York often have had an uphill battle convincing those from outside the state — especially right-leaning Republicans — to support funding for what out-of-area representatives have seen as a New York-specific issue. They had an ally in former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, but often ran up against roadblocks from others in the party.

But Johnson’s support didn’t come in a vacuum. Rep. Andrew Garbarino has been leading the fight for 9/11 funding ever since he got to Congress, following in the footsteps of the 9/11 funding advocate he replaced, former Rep. Peter King.

Garbarino made the WTC Health Program a key issue during the latest speaker’s race, when Garbarino and fellow Long Island representatives Nick LaLota and Anthony D’Esposito were key to Johnson’s ultimate victory. Their support for Johnson only came after Johnson promised support of his own.

Johnson called Garbarino the morning of the speaker vote, Garbarino recalled in a conversation with The Point on Tuesday.

“I said, ‘I need this. I need to make sure you’re not going to screw these guys over,’” Garbarino said of the 9/11 funding effort. “That’s when he told me about his father. He said, ‘I will never screw these guys over. It’s personal to me.’”

Johnson’s father was a firefighter who was critically burned in the line of duty in an explosion that left him permanently disabled.

As members of the House negotiated their version of the National Defense Authorization Act late last month, Garbarino reminded Johnson of his promise, and had LaLota and D’Esposito call Johnson as well. The goal: to include in the NDAA $676 million for the 9/11 health program and expand eligibility for the program to members of the military who responded at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 crashed.

And Johnson followed through.

“He didn’t just say what I wanted him to say so he could get my vote [for speaker],” Garbarino said. “He acted like it was his personal issue.”

The conversations and negotiations over the NDAA continued through Thanksgiving week — and the 9/11 funding was one of the last pieces to fall into place.

“Man, did he stay true to his word,” Garbarino said. “It almost fell out and without his support and without his team’s support, it wouldn’t have been put back in and we would have been blamed and rightfully so. The Speaker said, ‘No, I will get this done.’ And he got it done.”

When Johnson’s office called to let Garbarino and his team know that they had gotten the full amount sought, Garbarino said he was “elated.”

“He gave me his word and he held up his end of the bargain,” Garbarino said. “And since he did this, there are other things we can get done together. The sky’s the limit on what we can do.”

Johnson’s support for an issue perceived to be New York-centric gives Garbarino, D’Esposito and LaLota a way to demonstrate, in the face of criticism from congressional Democrats, that their support of Johnson as speaker produced some positive results. And advocates who previously might have had doubts about Johnson’s leadership now find themselves praising the Garbarino-Johnson combination.

“Congressman Garbarino was instrumental in overcoming resistance in the House to keeping the amendment in the bill by getting Speaker Johnson’s crucial and strong support for injured and ill 9/11 responders,” said advocate Ben Chevat, who heads Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act.

But Chevat and other advocates are hoping to secure a more permanent fix to the funding formula behind the World Trade Center Health Program, rather than constantly begging for temporary plugs to fill budget holes. Until then, Chevat said, he’ll keep pushing for the short-term funding streams.

“I feel like I’m rustling around sofa cushions in the government looking for cash,” Chevat said.

Garbarino told The Point that the NDAA funding “buys us time” — but it’s unclear how much time, especially with the unpredictability of inflation and 9/11 responders’ health issues.

“It would have been much worse if we didn’t get the money in now,” Garbarino said.

But when the new funding runs out, it will again be time to make another deal — with Johnson, or whoever is speaker of the House.

— Randi F. Marshall

Pencil Point

Alms and the man

Credit: CQ Roll Call/R.J. Matson

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Final Point

GOP could name CD3 candidate Friday

Selection of the Republican candidate to run in February’s special election for CD3 could come as late as Friday, the last day under New York law for a filing to be made with the state Board of Elections, Nassau GOP chair Joe Cairo told The Point Tuesday. The winner of the special election will fill the vacancy created by the expulsion of George Santos from Congress earlier this month.

Cairo said that intensive background checks on “six or seven finalists” are due back on Thursday and once the reports are reviewed, he will meet late Thursday with Queens GOP chair Tony Nunziato to come to an agreement. It’s possible the decision could be announced later that evening. The Democrats last week picked Tom Suozzi, who held the seat in Congress for three terms before deciding not to seek reelection in 2022.

“There is no clear front-runner, the last thing anyone wants is a repeat of what happened the last time,” said Cairo, dismissing speculation that the choice was down to Nassau County Legis. Mazi Melesa Pilip and former NYPD detective Mike Sapraicone, who started and sold a successful private security firm. Cairo acknowledged that former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato has been a vocal supporter of Sapraicone. “He has his opinion and I respect that,” said Cairo.

GOP insiders say that in recent days, the momentum has shifted to Pilip, a former member of the Israeli Defense Forces and an Orthodox Jew who strategists believe can run a strong race in the short time frame on the issue of antisemitism. Nassau party elder and former Rep. Peter King is talking her up and “he wouldn’t be doing that as a free agent,” noted one GOP source.

Others getting background checks include Dan Serota, mayor of the Village of Brookville and a developer who has been interested in running for Congress for almost a decade; U.S. Air Force veteran Kellen Curry; and from the Queens side of the district, Vickie Paladino, who ran a strong and winning race in the recent New York City Council elections. Cairo said he has been in contact with State Sen. Jack Martins over the past few days. But the GOP chair, who is fond of sports analogies, said that while Martins “is never totally out” of the game, right now he doesn’t “have his uniform on.” Cairo added that Martins wants to run again for his State Senate seat.

Cairo also reacted to Tuesday’s ruling by the state’s highest court that ordered new House maps to be drawn for the November general election, which means that even if Cairo gets a Republican over the finish line in February, CD3 can be made bluer with changes to district lines. “We are on the field now, who knows what is going to happen,” he said, keeping his focus for now on the February race that Santos has turned into a national parlor game.

— Rita Ciolli

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