NEW YORK (AP) — Jon Stewart says he was only a "wingman" to a cancer-stricken Sept. 11 firefighter who helped stage a last-ditch congressional fight to secure future health care for first responders.
An impassioned former "Daily Show" host joined New York Mayor Bill de Blasio at City Hall to honor retired firefighter Ray Pfeifer with a key to the city.
"The key to the city is a symbol of trust, and I think that if you gave it to me, you'd go to sleep, I'd steal the Chrysler Building," joked the newly bearded comedian, standing in blue jeans before uniformed firefighters, their families, elected officials — and even a dog whose father had been a 9/11 search dog.
"I love this man," Stewart said, embracing Pfeifer, who spent months digging through the World Trade Center debris searching for fellow firefighters' remains.
"I was Ray's wingman on our trips down to DC," said Stewart, adding that various responder activists' "ability to withstand having to fight for a thing that they never should have been down there to fight for in the first place ... raised my spirits and my hope for the future in a way that nothing else could."
The 57-year-old Long Island resident with stage-four cancer rose from his wheelchair to say that the legislation passed by Congress last month extends health care to tens of thousands of first responders "still dying from terrorism ... still sick from terrorism."
"I was a very small part," Pfeifer added. "I was just a poster boy." But "we got something done. ... It was hard-fought. We dealt with people that didn't really get it."
He and Stewart were part of a group that walked miles through the halls of power challenging lawmakers to vote for the federal act that extends health monitoring and treatment for Sept. 11 first responders across the nation until 2090.
Stewart used the "Daily Show" to highlight the issue, and when he retired as host made sure politicians who balked at supporting the bill were named in the media.
"My job there was to have a camera and embarrass people," he told Saturday's gathering.
De Blasio responded: "John, thank you for all you did in this fight."