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Last Updated

27 Nov 2002

Source: The Times (Trenton, NJ), June 10, 2002.


Daschle pledges to hurry reopening


WEST WINDSOR - Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle pledged yesterday to help speed the reopening of the Trenton area's main post office in Hamilton, which processed four anthrax-tainted letters last fall - including one to his office.

Hamilton Mayor Glen Gilmore told postal workers a vacant building on East State Street could serve as an interim site.

The developments came a day after officials of the Trenton-Metro branch of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) informed members that Vito Cetta, the postal service's district manager for New Jersey, had said the Hamilton facility might not reopen until 2004.

U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., and Gilmore said they were surprised to hear that date, with the mayor saying cleanup was expected to begin this summer.

Joined by Torricelli and U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., Daschle listened as town and postal union officials raised concerns about delays in decontaminating the facility, which closed in mid-October.

"We need to light a fire under the appropriate people," Daschle said. "If it's a matter of additional resources, then we need to provide them. We have to do whatever it takes to get the job done."

About 11 postal officials from the APWU, the mail handlers, letter carriers, rural letter carriers and the National Association of Postal Supervisors unions attended the meeting with Gilmore and the congressmen.

"Sen. Daschle seemed very sincere," said Robert Lauer, vice president of the Trenton-Metro branch of the APWU. "He was closer to what happened than others because a letter with anthrax was addressed to him.

"(Daschle) asked of all the things we wanted, what did we want most. I think we were all in agreement - that we need a new interim building and in the Trenton vicinity. So far the post office seems like it has concentrated on going north - and a vast number of employees live in Trenton."

Daschle told the workers that he had been affected just as they were.

"In a sense, we're both victims of the same crime, (the same) heinous act," Daschle told The Associated Press. "It's something that has not been lost on me or my office. In some ways, we have recovered and they have not. That's a tragedy we have to rectify."

Bill Lewis, president of the Trenton-Metro branch of the APWU, speculated that Torricelli seemed angry about receiving conflicting information from various sources about the Hamilton postal facility's future.

Gilmore told postal workers he believes an acceptable interim site has been found on East State Street, which runs through Trenton and Hamilton.

That information was news to postal workers, union members said.

"It was a shock that (such a) site was available, but there is a lot of things needed to run a postal office - parking, ample power and bathroom facilities," Lewis said.

Lewis did not know the exact address of the site or what it previously housed.

Gilmore could not be reached for details last night.

Besides the building on East State Street, postal workers have also been looking at sites in the Roebling section of Florence, Monroe and South Brunswick. But it would be nice to have a site close to Trenton, because many employees have recently been driving more than 40 hours a month to work at other facilities, Lewis said.

"If there was an end in sight, maybe it would be tolerable, but there is no end in sight," Lewis said.

At the meeting, Gilmore asked for help getting the town and a hospital reimbursed for setting up a clinic to dispense antibiotics to postal workers who may have been exposed to anthrax.

The meeting was at the New Jersey Hospital Association building on Alexander Road in West Windsor.

Daschle was in New Jersey for a Torricelli campaign engagement less than five miles from the anthrax-contaminated building, which also handled tainted letters sent to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and the New York Post.

Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer emphasized the need to reopen the facility soon when contacted by phone last night.

"I support the union - Bill Lewis and them," Palmer said. "I told legislators today we need to reopen the facility and have the jobs stay here. It's critically important."

Federal officials plan to finish decontaminating a Washington, D.C., postal facility that also handled anthrax-laced mail before they turn their attention to the New Jersey plant. The building where Daschle's office is located was fumigated earlier this year and reopened.

Torricelli promised to meet with postal officials to "get a timetable to the residents of Hamilton and postal workers there can depend on."

Since the Mercer County facility closed Oct. 18, postal workers have reported to sites in Middlesex and Monmouth counties.

Gilmore said moving to East State Street would be a benefit.

"Then they can take as much time as they need to figure out how best to clean up the site," he said. "I don't think we can afford to wait much longer for a result that is unknown."

NOTE: The Associated Press contributed to this report.