The Chief
November 9, 2007

Say Bloomberg Apologized For 'No Hero' Slur

By REUVEN BLAU

Mayor Bloomberg Nov. 5 apologized to Det. James Zadroga's father, Joseph, during a closed-door meeting at City Hall, vowing to have Chief Medical Examiner Charles S. Hirsch review his son's complete medical record.

"He said that James was a true hero," Mr. Zadroga told reporters after the conference. "I was very happy with the way things turned out."

To Review Recognition

The Mayor also promised to review how the city decides whose names will be placed on the memorial wall to be constructed at Ground Zero, Mr. Zadroga said. "He will go back to the commission and someway or somehow they will recognize the people who are passing away," Mr. Zadroga remarked.

The apology came a week after Mr. Bloomberg infuriated police union officials by declaring that Detective Zadroga was "not a hero" because Dr. Hirsch concluded he died as a result of injecting prescription drugs rather than due to illnesses caused by his time spent at Ground Zero.

"This is the most insulting thing that's ever been said about a Police Officer," asserted Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, during an Oct. 30 press conference.

'Didn't Want to Hear It'

While accepting an award from the Harvard School of Public Health the previous day, the Mayor defended Dr. Hirsch for determining that Detective Zadroga's death was caused by drug abuse.

"Nobody wanted to hear that," Mayor Bloomberg said at the ceremony. "We wanted to have a hero. There are plenty of heroes. It's just in this case, the science says this was not a hero."

Detectives Endowment Association President Michael J. Palladino was outraged by those comments, which were made as the Mayor tried to explain that scientific findings are not always popular.

"I thought Hirsch's findings and the Mayor's comments were mean-spirited and without any medical basis," he said during an Oct. 30 phone interview. "While he was alive, James Zadroga was examined by many of his private physicians, [and] numerous times by the NYPD's Medical Board, the body that counts."

Mayor Softens Remarks

Earlier that day, the Mayor backpedaled, saying, "This was a great NYPD officer who dedicated himself - put his life in harm's way hundreds of times during his career," he told reporters who questioned his earlier comments. "It's a question of how you want to define what a hero is, and certainly I did not mean to hurt the family or impugn his reputation."

In April 2006, Dr. Gerard Breton of the Ocean County Medical Examiner's Office in New Jersey concluded "with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the cause of death in this case was directly related to the 9/11 incident."

His report listed the cause as "respiratory failure due to ... history of exposure to toxic fumes and dusts." A microscopic inspection of Detective Zadroga's lungs revealed "the presence of innumerable foreign body granulomas that are distributed throughout the lung tissue ... The giant cells often contain unidentified foreign materials that are consistent with dust."

Detective Zadroga, a decorated member of the NYPD who was in 7 World Trade Center when it collapsed, spent approximately 450 hours at Ground Zero for two months after 9/11, helping with rescue and recovery.

He began to experience serious health problems about a year later, and was eventually forced to retire with his disability pension.

His wife Ronda, who had a heart ailment, died shortly thereafter, leaving him in charge of their four-year-old daughter. As he became more incapacitated by respiratory illness and other medical problems, Mr. Zadroga moved back into his parents' house in New Jersey. He died at age 34.

"He never should have sullied the reputation of that police officer," Mr. Lynch said, referring to the Mayor's comments. "It just shows that he's a billionaire who does not understand. It's insulting, and he owes all of us an apology."