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Wrong faces dominate Ground Zero

Friday, March 17, 2006 By ALFRED DOBLIN HERALD NEWS

The scene outside Ground Zero is much changed since autumn of 2001. There are no barricades blocking traffic and pedestrians in lower Manhattan. The myriad of posters tacked to fences, with pictures of the missing of Sept. 11, have all but disappeared. PATH trains rumble through a temporary station that leaks whenever it rains. The water gets so intense during a good-sized storm that the remaining marble steps of the World Trade Center mezzanine are partially taped off from use. The dirty, cracked marble of the original World Trade Center is a sad reminder of what was and what has not changed. Nearly five years later, there are no buildings, just bickering.

While construction has begun on the Sept. 11 memorial, construction on the centerpiece -- at least from a political perspective -- the Freedom Tower, has not. New York Gov. George Pataki has given developer Larry Silverstein an ultimatum: Start building the tower by next month or get out of the way. New Jersey has a reputation for pay to play. New York perfected pay to stay. Inertia is the given.Silverstein reportedly was close to agreeing to a deal that would let the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey build the Freedom Tower and another building on the site. The remaining three planned structures would stay under Silverstein's control. Exactly what was on the table is hard to figure out. Silverstein claims he has the money to build the Freedom Tower and all other structures. Pataki doesn't buy that.

Silverstein has been portrayed as a money-obsessed developer. That's redundant. Developers are all about money. Nobody buys the lease of a large commercial complex for the altruistic possibilities. In Silverstein's case, he bought the lease on the World Trade Center site less than two months before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Maybe he's greedy. He certainly does not know how to play the local media. And given that his opponent is Pataki, that's not saying much. Pataki is consumed with legacy. Time is running out. He isn't running for another term as governor, and he may make a run for the presidency. The Freedom Tower is his legacy. Yet the Freedom Tower, as currently designed, isn't worth the battle. It is an uninspired variation on the design of the original Twin Towers. Except it will be an only child, rising to the "iconic" height of 1,776 feet. Design by consensus makes for poor architecture. Yet, politicians are determined to build this monument, not to freedom, but to political ambitions.

Building for legacy on the memory of 3,000 dead people is flat-out wrong. It's time for Gov. Jon. S. Corzine to flex his muscles. The Port Authority owns the site. And unlike the stupid deal with Red Bull that took New Jersey out of the name of a soccer team that will play in Harrison, the World Trade Center site is jointly owned by the two-state agency. New Jersey is part of Ground Zero whether New York likes it or not. Pataki's legacy is not more important than getting the World Trade Center site right. Neither is Silverstein's ego. With nearly a full term ahead of him, Corzine has nothing to lose in helping Silverstein and Pataki find common ground. Corzine, as the former head of Goldman Sachs, has a personal history in lower Manhattan. More than any politician in New Jersey and New York, he is best suited to speak to the needs of developers, prospective tenants and the families of victims.

The bickering over the Freedom Tower, Pataki's legacy and Silverstein's financial stability detracts from fundraising for the Sept. 11 memorial -- that is the only "legacy" that politicians on both sides of the Hudson should be determined to leave. Victims' families are divided over the memorial plans. They should unite on one issue: reminding everyone that the World Trade Center site cannot be remade into what it was on Sept. 10, 2001. Bring back the homemade posters to the fences of lower Manhattan. We need to see the smiling faces of men and women who never came home on Sept. 11. We need to see more of them and less of Silverstein and Pataki.

Meanwhile, rain still will pour through a shoddy roof and soil the last remnants of the World Trade Center. That does not change.

Alfred P. Doblin is the editorial page editor of the Herald News. Reach him at Copyright © 2006 North Jersey Media Group Inc. Copyright Infringement Notice User Agreement & Privacy Policy.

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