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20 Oct 2002

Source:  The Trentonian (New Jersey), October 20, 2002.

ONE YEAR LATER

LAURA PELNER, Staff Writer

HAMILTON -- For the local postal workers who rallied outside their old facility on Route 130 yesterday it was like nothing had changed -- they were in the same place, looking at the same thing.

It was a year ago yesterday the Jack Rafferty Postal Facility was closed because of anthrax contamination. Plastic bags were put up to seal it off and promises were made to clean it up quickly.

Today, the bags are still there and the decontamination date has been pushed to next year.

To commemorate Oct. 19, 2001, about 100 employees who used to work in Hamilton stood on the building grounds yesterday and reflected on the tragedy that rocked their lives.

A moment of silence was held for the five people who died from anthrax. Locally four people contracted it, but all of them lived. Yesterday, survivors shared their stories and political leaders offered support.

"The thing I keep telling people is Trenton was ground zero for the anthrax," said John Breckenridge, a postal employee.

Like all of the 1,000 workers who were stationed in Hamilton, Breckenridge was moved to another facility. But unlike most, he has been moved 19 times since.

His wife, Kathy, also a postal employee, just received notification she may lose her job or never be able to work in the Rafferty building again.

Wearing signs that read: "Postal workers are heroes too," Breckenridge and his co-workers braved brisk, drizzly conditions to get their message out.

And people were receptive. Cars and trucks that passed on Route 130 honked and the postal truck that drove by made so much noise it drowned out the screams from around the building.

"This event here is in remembrance," Breckenridge said. "It's been a year and nothing has happened.

"Nothing has changed in a year. We are the forgotten people."

Bill Lewis, head of the local postal workers' union, was on hand to help create a memorial at the Rafferty building. He said people are trying to move on in the year since the attack but they should not forget the brave souls who were affected most.

"I thought it was very important we come out here today and recognize ourselves because no one else seems to be doing it," Lewis said. "America shouldn't forget what happened in Hamilton."

Rep. Chris Smith and Hamilton Mayor Glen Gilmore were also there, along with state Reps. Gary Guear and Linda Greenstein and councilwoman Eileen Thornton. Senate candidate Frank Lautenberg even made a surprise appearance and spoke briefly to the crowd.

"This was really important to remember, but there's still so many unresolved issues," Smith told the postal employees. He said the Postal Service has mistreated its people and he's now fighting on their behalf.

A bio-terrorism bill Smith authored should be signed by President George W. Bush soon. It was written in response to the anthrax fiasco in Hamilton.

The bill allocates $100 million in federal funds to create four National Medical Preparedness Centers for research and development. They'll create protocol to deal with attacks so the country can effectively handle a crisis in the future.

Smith said he's still working to speed up the cleaning process in Hamilton, which isn't scheduled to start until the Brentwood facility in Washington D.C. is decontaminated. That should begin in mid-November.

"They should be working overtime to restore this to its pristine nature," the congressman said of the post office. He called the delay suspicious.

Councilwoman Thornton described yesterday as a day of reflection and also a time to ensure Hamilton gets its employees back.

Mayor Gilmore offered his prayers for the misplaced workers and called on the government to strengthen its efforts in finding the terrorist responsible for sending anthrax through the mail.