Sep. 4—Charles G. Wolf was a widower living in New York City in 2002, mourning the loss of his wife in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Katherine wasn't more than two weeks into her new job with Marsh & McLennan, an insurance brokerage firm. She was on the 97th floor of the North Tower when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the building.
"I kissed her goodbye at 8:06 that morning and never heard from her again," Wolf remembers.
Wolf, a 1972 graduate of Taylor High School, was like thousands of others who lost a loved one in attacks — eligible for financial compensation through the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
The Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) was meant to compensate victims in exchange for their agreement to not sue the airline companies whose planes were used in the attacks.
As Wolf explained, if every victim's family sued American Airlines or United Airlines, the companies would be forced to liquidate.
So, the VCF was established. This is the same fund comedian Jon Stewart has pressured Congress about in recent years to continue funding for 9/11 first responders.
For years, the fund had only temporary funding. President Donald Trump signed into law that the VCF be funded through 2090, guaranteeing all victims be compensated.
Attorney Kenneth R. Feinberg was appointed special master of the VCF. He was tasked with developing the rules and regulations of the compensation fund and was given broad oversight in doing so.
However, by the summer of 2002, little progress had been made with the fund created by Congress. Wolf wasn't happy with how Feinberg was calculating compensation.
A New York Times article from 2002 detailed the issues that relatives of victims had with Feinberg and the entire process, including broken promises, inconsistent guidance and delayed decisions.
Feinberg was largely unpopular at the time, and as Wolf recalls, the lawyer treated people like numbers on a spreadsheet.
On the second anniversary of 9/11, less than 30% of eligible people had signed up for compensation, and the deadline was approaching that December.
"It was bad," Wolf said.
Wolf thought of all the widowed mothers caring for children and decided to do something about the VCF. He launched a website called fixthefund.org as a way to educate people and apply public pressure to Feinberg to fix the system.
Wolf said he politely lambasted Feinberg in the press.
Eventually, the two would meet.
"He called me up and asked for advice," Wolf said.
Over the ensuing months and years, Feinberg changed his tune. In the end, $7 billion would be awarded to 97% of families.
"The man changed as if God had came down and spoke to him," Wolf said.
That struggle and journey to proper compensation is dramatized in a new Netflix movie, "Worth."
The film, which premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, stars Michael Keaton as Feinberg. Wolf is played by Stanley Tucci, who has starred in a number of films, including "The Hunger Games" and "Transformers" series, along with "Spotlight."
Wolf's advocacy made it all the way to President George W. Bush. They happened to be in the same room together, and Wolf slipped him a letter.
"When you have an opportunity to take it to the top, you do it," Wolf said.
The success of the first round of the VCF helped it continue and eventually be funded in perpetuity.
"That means they're not going to be financially destitute from medical bills," Wolf said.
As for the movie, Wolf said nothing is exaggerated, only dramatized.
"The feeling is correct in the movie," he said. "It's a damn good movie."
"Worth" could even be nomination-worthy, though Wolf admits he might be biased.
"Worth" is now available on Netflix.
Spencer Durham can be reached at 765-454-8598, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @Durham_KT.