- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 30, 2001

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Stephen Push knows the halls of Congress are a strange place to seek comfort, a curious refuge from images of terrorists, crashing planes and the death of his wife.
But after September 11, he had little use for his old life as an investor. He went on leave. Now he's busier than ever.
He bickers with senators on the phone over how the FBI should fight terrorism. He debates the finer points of cockpit security on CNN, putting forth facts and parrying remarks with the best of them.
"The worst feeling was helplessness," Mr. Push said. "I'm done being helpless. I need to be on the front line. Few other things can occupy my mind. I can't read books. I can't watch movies. They can't distract me from the hurt."
Mr. Push, whose wife, Lisa Raines, was killed when a hijacked plane hit the Pentagon, is one of a legion who have found new purpose since losing loved ones in the terrorist attacks. First horrified, then heartbroken; now, defiant and determined, many September 11 activists are becoming regulars on Capitol Hill.
In Washington, two groups formed, Pentagon Angels and Families of September 11, where Mr. Push is a board member.
In New York, the 9-11 Widows' and Families Association and the WTC United Family Group focus on issues surrounding the destruction of the World Trade Center.
On Capitol Hill, the activists are shown respect in the form of access and inclusion.
When House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, went on CNN to press for the Democrats' airline security bill, he called Mr. Push and asked him to come along. Mr. Push's Rolodex now includes personal numbers for Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and Rep. James Moran, Virginia Democrat.
As a crucial vote on an airline security bill approached, a number of lawmakers contacted activists to find out where they stood.
The groups' agendas are ambitious. They want more sky marshals on planes, millions of dollars in high-tech security equipment for airports and expensive screening equipment at border check points. They already have won federal aid of at least $500,000 for each victim's family.
At age 26, Carrie Lemack is one of the youngest members of the Families of September 11 and its president. She blitzes Congress members in person and by phone regularly, and sounds like a veteran of Capitol Hill.
"There are so many long-term issues that are relevant to so many people's lives, from security and safety to how we should remember what was done to us as a nation," said Miss Lemack, whose mother, Judith Larocque, was on board American Airlines Flight 11 when it crashed into the World Trade Center.
Charles Sincock, 57, a computer scientist, was propelled by grief to create the Web site www.PentagonAngels.net and become a voice for the group in Washington. Mr. Sincock worked at the Pentagon with his wife, Cheryl, an administrative assistant. He spent September 11 helping the injured and organizing the search for survivors, knowing his wife might be among the dead. By the next morning, he knew she was lost.
"A memorial will be nice, but this is about saying that there is nothing that wounds us so terribly that we can't work for a better tomorrow," he said. "We want laws that protect our children."
At times, the relationship with politicians is uneasy. The groups bear a stinging message: The government bears some blame for allowing the attacks.
Both Mr. Sincock and Mr. Push say the FBI should have kept airlines better informed of potential threats, the CIA should have done more to pursue Osama bin Laden after other attacks, and the FAA should have required airlines to install sturdier cockpit doors.
"I am mad, and everyone who looks long enough will see that another attack of a different nature could be pulled off tomorrow," Mr. Push said. "The government is taking too long to make changes."

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