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9/11 Memorial at Center of a Tussle

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 29, 2012 9:27 pm    Post subject: 9/11 Memorial at Center of a Tussle
From Jun 29, 2012 to Jul 01, 2012 (included)
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9/11 Memorial at Center of a Tussle

The Wall Street Journal, June 28, 2012

Two Governors Feud With the Mayor Over Control of Decision Making Related to Attack Anniversaries and the Public Plaza


The governors of New York and New Jersey are trying to wrest control from Mayor Michael Bloomberg over events and other decisions at the 9/11 Memorial, including the annual ceremonies marking the terrorist attacks' anniversary, according to people familiar with the discussions between the city and the Port Authority.

The proposal, strongly opposed by Mr. Bloomberg's administration, has derailed an agreement to resume construction on the unfinished 9/11 Museum, which has hung in limbo since September. The tug of war pits the Port Authority—controlled jointly by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—against Mr. Bloomberg, the chairman of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum foundation, whose administration has choreographed each anniversary ceremony since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Reuters U.S. Army Band members and the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment stand at attention during a wreath laying ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial site in New York in June.
At stake is stewardship over the 9/11 Memorial plaza—a site that is at once a sacred, public space, a piece of property owned by the Port Authority, and a memorial entrusted to a nonprofit organization.

In interviews, multiple Port Authority officials said they weren't seeking to micromanage the museum or the schedule of events at the memorial plaza.

But they expressed a growing frustration: After nearly 11 years, the Port Authority wants greater say over its most famous site. They are proposing an oversight group that includes representatives for the governors, the city and victims' families that would monitor the foundation, including its finances.

A spokesman for Mr. Christie declined to comment, as did the mayor's office. Josh Vlasto, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo, said: "No one is trying to take control. This is a financial dispute." He said it is unclear whether the foundation will be able to cover its projected costs. "There are no more big anniversary ceremonies going forward, and the mayor is going to be gone."

Both governors recently asked the National Park Service to help manage and fund the site.

In a statement, Port Authority Chairman David Samson said: "We all hope the federal government will play a role as requested by the governors. But until that happens, I think the board and the Port Authority have a special responsibility to pay attention to the security and the respect that this special site deserves."

A more delicate sticking point, amid a clash of forceful personalities, is the view that Mr. Bloomberg seeks to be the final arbiter of the memorial and its affairs. "Michael Bloomberg doesn't own 9/11," a Port Authority official said.

"Insults and attacks won't get the memorial built," a city official said. "Mayor Bloomberg stepped in when the project had stalled and raised $450 million to build the memorial. Now it's time to put politics aside and get the museum built."

Last year—before the nationally televised 10th anniversary ceremony—Mr. Cuomo pushed for the chance to deliver his own remarks instead of reading a passage, which had been the tradition. Mr. Christie's administration requested the addition of a speaking role for Mr. Samson and criticized Mr. Bloomberg for excluding Donald DiFrancesco, New Jersey's governor at the time of the attacks.

In the end, Mr. Cuomo read a quotation. Mr. Samson didn't speak, and Mr. DiFrancesco was invited to participate.

The anniversary ceremony isn't the only issue in dispute, but it is the most politically sensitive. Already, there is concern among family members that the event will be significantly scaled back now that the 10th anniversary has passed.

Mr. Bloomberg is undecided on whether the recitation of the names of the dead—the most somber portion of the ceremony—will be included in the program this year.

Monica Iken, who lost her husband in the attacks and is a member of the foundation board, said: "The names have to be read. He knows that. He knows that."

Beyond that, no agreement dictates the terms of the foundation's relationship with the agency.

The idea of greater oversight was first raised by the Port Authority at a May 30 meeting attended by officials from that agency, the city and the foundation.

At a June 19 meeting at City Hall, the Port Authority presented more details on its proposal, arguing that this new body should have an advisory role over events on the memorial's public plaza as well as financial oversight of the foundation, according to people familiar with the talks.

Port Authority executives sought a meeting with the full board of the foundation to press their case for a permanent management body for the site but were rebuffed by the foundation's leadership, officials said.

Meanwhile, the tussle has held up completion of the 9/11 Museum, which had been scheduled to open in September. Construction had been delayed because of an argument between the Port Authority and the foundation over the sharing of construction costs.

The Port Authority's claim of $156 million and the foundation's counterclaim of $140 million was resolved in a financial agreement reached weeks ago. Under the terms of the deal, the foundation would pay $20 million up front for the Port Authority to complete the museum, followed by a series of smaller payments tied to the completion of the museum by a deadline, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. It also includes a revenue-sharing agreement.

The deal has now been tabled. More than 200 relatives of Sept. 11 victims signed a scathing letter to Messrs. Cuomo and Christie Wednesday calling the delay "a betrayal."

Mr. Bloomberg, speaking Thursday, said there has been no substantial progress on the museum for nearly a year.

"What we need to do is get this back on track," he said. "Gov. Cuomo and [Gov. Christie] have to get together and say to the Port Authority, 'Come on! Let's get serious…It has to get done for the region and for America.' Let's stop all this shilly shallying and just do it. There's nothing substantive between us left."

—Heather Haddon and Jacob Gershman contributed to this article
(c.) The Wall Street Journal, 6/28/12.
Write to Jennifer Maloney at jennifer.maloney@wsj.com, Ted Mann at ted.mann@wsj.com and Michael Howard Saul at michael.saul@wsj.com
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