“The local Red Cross chapter’s fourth annual Heroes Breakfast was going according to script yesterday, recognizing the bravery and good deeds of police officers, firefighters and good Samaritans from across Westchester. Then Josh Rattner was called to accept his award.
In November, Mr. Rattner, an electrical contractor from the Village of Irvington, pulled the driver of a burning gasoline tanker away from the truck, doused the flames engulfing the man’s body and saved his life. The American Red Cross of Westchester and the Westchester County government wanted to thank him. But Mr. Rattner had other thoughts. In front of nearly 300 well-wishers in Rye Brook – the friends, families and co-workers of the dozen or so honorees – Mr. Rattner, 28, said he could not in good conscience accept an award that was sponsored, in part, by Entergy Nuclear Northeast, the company that owns the Indian Point power plants.
“I’m not interested in being a public relations puppet so Entergy can mask their disregard for public safety,” Mr. Rattner said later, recounting the event. “Heroism today would be permanently decommissioning Indian Point.”
In the silence that followed, the would-have-been hero and his family got up and left the celebration. Mr. Rattner insists that the doors were quickly and pointedly shut behind them, though others in the room disagree with that detail of the account. Laurence Gottlieb, director of communications for Entergy Northeast and co-chairman of the breakfast, called the statement a selfish act.
“Obviously, Entergy is not afraid of controversy,” Mr. Gottlieb said. “But I do think there is a time and a place. It was not right to take a political stance there and embarrass all the other honorees.”
Indeed, Mr. Rattner was not alone on the stage at the Rye Town Hilton when he spoke. Yanni Papanicolaou, a florist from Pleasantville, who saved the driver of the burning car that the gasoline tanker had collided with, was standing right behind him.
“I was waiting to say thank you for the award,” Mr. Papanicolaou, 29, recalled in a telephone conversation. “He started out nice, and suddenly it was just like, ‘Whoa, where is he going with this?’ I didn’t know what to say. I was just kind of stuck on stupid, and then I went back to my seat.”
It was not just Entergy Mr. Rattner had harsh words for.
“When I got the literature on this event, I was extremely surprised to see that the county was participating in it, even though Entergy was sponsoring it,” Mr. Rattner said, referring to a letter in the program in which County Executive Andrew J. Spano thanked Entergy for sponsoring a community partnership with the Red Cross. Mr. Spano has repeatedly called for Indian Point to be closed and refused to endorse an emergency evacuation plan he called unworkable.
“We agree with the statements made by Mr. Rattner,” Susan Tolchin, Mr. Spano’s chief adviser, said in a telephone interview. “We think Indian Point should be closed. We are a supporter of the American Red Cross, and Entergy is a supporter of the American Red Cross. We are not a supporter of Entergy.”
It was the chaos of the roads after the tanker explosion that started Mr. Rattner thinking about a nuclear disaster, he said, noting that he is not a political activist and has never taken part in a demonstration against Indian Point.
“At the tanker explosion, the roads were clogged and you couldn’t move,” Mr. Rattner. “No one could get anywhere. I thought, ‘Could you imagine if there was a nuclear accident?’ I could have said thank you today and took the plaque that was partially paid for by Entergy. But if anything happened at Indian Point, I could never live with myself.”
Entergy supports many Red Cross programs, said Robert Sanders, a spokesman for the Westchester chapter of the American Red Cross.
“It’s not about Indian Point,” Mr. Sanders said. “It’s about being a good corporate citizen.”
Mr. Sanders said he did not believe that the Red Cross would lose donations because of Mr. Rattner’s actions, but he said he was embarrassed for the other heroes, particularly Mr. Papanicolaou, whom he invited to a Red Cross event held to thank volunteers in June. That event is sponsored by MasterCard.”
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