Debra Burlingame exposes the squandering of 9/11 memorial funds:
The American people, watching the horrific scenes in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania, voiced nary a peep of dissent when the federal government handed over $21 billion in disaster relief–$18 billion in rebuilding bonds and tax credits, and $2.8 billion in immediate cash grants–to the state and city of New York. The desire to raise buildings and bring back neighborhoods and businesses far from their own communities is powerful proof of the generosity of a people whose hearts were broken but whose resolve was not.
The public has heard plenty about the “empty pit of Ground Zero,” but most do not know that the $2.8 billion allocated to Lower Manhattan in cash grants has virtually all been spent. It is difficult to trace where all the money went while being routed through the Department of Housing and Urban Development and six different city and state entities. Now, after four-and-a-half years of press conferences, ribbon-cuttings and groundbreakings (the Freedom Tower has had two), at which the lost 343 firefighters were invoked and the memorial and museum was touted as the “centerpiece” around which hundreds of millions of dollars in spending projects would turn, Gov. Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have teamed up to tell the public that it’s time to “rethink” the project where the history of those valiant firefighters will be secured. Not only does this undermine Daniel Libeskind’s master plan, which always included a museum of “memory and hope,” it also manifests a standard of fiscal responsibility that the governor and the mayor have refrained from imposing anywhere else at Ground Zero.
The Port Authority’s massive new transportation hub, designed by superstar architect Santiago Calatrava, will cost an estimated $2.2 billion. Some $2 billion of that is federal money, which means that the entire country is supporting the “awe-inspiring” makeover of a terminal that will serve a mere 40,000 commuters (a number so embarrassing the Port Authority upped it to 80,000 by including round trips). The chief executive of a construction firm involved in the building illustrates the absurdity of what insiders call a “vanity project” by pointing out that $2.2 billion is enough to build a metropolitan airport.
The governor has also handed out hundreds of millions in relief money to corporate powerhouses, ostensibly to get them to relocate to Lower Manhattan or to prevent them from leaving. He signed off on $25 million worth of recovery funds for American Express, which expressly announced it hadn’t intended to leave Lower Manhattan and posted doubled profits less than a year after 9/11. Goldman Sachs, which made $4.55 billion dollars in net profits in 2004, received a $2 billion “assistance” package consisting of triple-tax-free Liberty Bonds, tax credits and cash the following year.
Mr. Bloomberg talks about a “sensible” approach to Ground Zero rebuilding, but has declined to fully explain his allocation of $650 million dollars worth of Liberty Bonds to construct the Bank of America tower in midtown, an allocation that competes with downtown redevelopment; or why he awarded $114 million in Liberty Bonds to the Ratner office tower–in Brooklyn.
The mayor has suggested locating the World Trade Center Museum in the controversial Freedom Tower, declaring it “a good use of that lobby.” To put the story of that day in another commercial office tower is an insult to the memory of the 3,000 who died and to the thousands who barely escaped. Would the Holocaust Museum be treated as an afterthought and crammed into such a space?