A Country That Keeps Its Promises
A recurring theme in all the commentary on Bin Laden’s death is that America is a country that keeps its promises. That’s a nice sound bite, but the tower that is rising at Ground Zero stands for nothing so much as broken promises.
Granted, there may be dedicated individuals at the site who think they are building something honorable — and some idealistic journalists in the media who have no idea how dishonest and disrespectful the process has been — and is to this day. Few people do.
But the number one promise our government has to honor is to keep the lines of communication open between the people and their officials, who owe it to us to listen honestly and then respond without prejudice. As soon as that stops, their legitimacy vanishes.
One of the dozens of Freedom of Information Law requests The Twin Tower Alliance has filed in the past year asked LMDC officials to produce documents showing how they tabulated the reputed massive public support for their agenda. But they were unable to produce a shred of correlation between the much-vaunted public process and the project at Ground Zero — because there was none.
That non-performance substantiated what some have known all along. In the words of one participant at the so-called “Listening to the City” events in 2002, who was quoted in Philip Nobel’s 2005 book Sixteen Acres: “This is the story of a thousand people drinking Shirley Temples and smoking candy cigarettes, and they all think they’re in the back room with their scotch and cigars.”
A review in The New York Press observed: “Though for many the Ground Zero rebuilding effort exuded the quaint impression of a grassroots, democratic process in the heart of a grief-stricken Big Apple, Nobel’s book, together with other recent examinations, reveals the degree to which the process was manipulated by big money interests and a powerful governor on an election-year time table who dealt from a stacked deck.”
Every official since George Pataki has claimed that the public played a decisive part in the process, but the only thing decisive about the public’s role has been as lender (actually spender) of last resort. Nevertheless, the bad faith that officials displayed back in 2001 and 2002, when we were all still reeling, is secondary to what has taken place since 2005 and especially since 2008.
The one common thread that twists through the last ten years of disappointment is an institutional arrogance and refusal to deal with inconvenient facts, insisting at every fork in the road, “It’s too late.” And they kept hoping that was true. But the problem with their efforts to create the self-fulfilling prophecy is that it wasn’t true then and it’s not true today.
Why have they gotten away with it? Why should private citizens have to put their lives on hold, year after year, in order to uncover what servile journalists are paid to uncover and to protect what faithless politicians are sworn to uphold?
If officials had looked at the “Twin Towers II” plan when it was unveiled in 2005, they might have realized that switching to the overwhelmingly popular plan would be a win for almost everyone – especially since its intelligent site plan positioned the Twin Towers so as to shield their sun-drenched lobbies. Instead they chose to entomb the misplaced Freedom Tower in 20-stories of concrete. Mayor Bloomberg’s standard put-down is: “You can’t please everyone.” But pleasing Mike is apparently all that really matters.
If Congressman Rangel’s Counsel in 2007 had asked the General Services Administration to defend the use of taxpayer funds to put the feeble project on life-support, as we requested, they could not have justified it. That would have made it much harder for officials to ignore a more popular, more credible alternative and new Twin Towers would quite possibly have been open for the 10th anniversary, instead of holding the observance in a half-baked, under-funded, construction zone. But what we were told at the time was that the Congressman was not going to cross the Mayor — as if that was a good reason for crossing the people instead.
If Port Authority Executive Director Christopher Ward had kept the promise he gave us in September, 2008, when we sat in his office with the designer of “Twin Towers II”, to look into a plan that could have saved billions of dollars and years of time; a plan that was fully designed and had won the admiration of some uniquely well-informed construction professionals; it could have been in construction within months and new Twin Towers would quite possibly have been open for the 10th anniversary. Instead, he chose to pump the project full of steroids and has given us a World Trade Center with an asterisk after its name.
If the Gracie Mansion Summiteers in June, 2009, had been willing to scratch the surface of our claims, instead of holding their hands to their ears and over their eyes, the site would have been transformed. But instead of doing the due diligence of evaluating a fully-designed plan for state-of-the-art Twin Towers, they did it their way and what do we have today? A losing proposition in every sense.
We have a World Trade Center without a center, a skyline with a gap where the twin stumps will be. If the Twin Towers were rising, we wouldn’t have to give Durst Corporation a cut-rate interest in the building to market the depressing Freedom Tower and Chris Ward wouldn’t have to take three-week junkets abroad to try to raise interest in a building that New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger has called “stunningly mediocre.”
The best use for the bunker building is to cap it, use it as the Command Center, and put all of the Federal, State, and City offices planned for site into it. If Conde Nast and the rest had a choice of walking into the magnificent lobbies of one of the Twin Towers or the gloom of the Freedom Tower, there is no doubt which one they would choose. We’ve lost a couple of years through Ward’s shenanigans, but that’s no reason to let officials get away with permanently robbing the American people and friends around the world of the spectacular World Trade Center we deserve and still can realize.
At the other end of the gap in the skyline, we have a tower that has run out of money because Larry Silverstein cannibalized the Twin Towers insurance proceeds he was given to build the Towers but used instead to pay his rent, his architects, his investors, his lawyers, and himself – even taking back his own meager $114 million initial investment. So now the the Port Authority’s toll payers and the City, State, and Federal taxpayers are on the hook for the rest.
This isn’t your garden-variety corruption and abuse of power. It is a world-class rip-off. We have been trying for years to get journalists to investigate and evaluate the facts. This is the last place where unaccountable officials should get away with deceiving and defeating the people, while complacent or complicit journalists stand back and let it happen.
“News is about stories,” Rachel Maddow intones in an MSNBC promo. “It’s about finding all the disparate facts and then finding their coherence. Doing this right takes rigor and a devotion to facts that borders on obsessive. … At the end of the day, though, this is about what’s true in the world.” She is as smart as they come, whether one agrees with her politics or not. Therefore, we are going to give her the best chance she will ever get to prove that she’s for real. If she is, she won’t be afraid to look at all the facts, not just the ones that support the current agenda. We hope she is. Otherwise she is using words to camouflage reality and that should be exposed.
The truth is hard to miss. New Twin Towers are still eminently feasible and would result in a far more prosperous and inspiring Trade Center than the one now envisioned. It would have been a lot more practical if the transition had been made two years ago. It would now take at least a year to retrofit the site to accommodate the “Twin Towers II” plan, but once it was put in motion the progress would be dramatic and the excitement would be real — not the output of press agents.
We are not the spoilers. To the contrary, that title belongs to those who think the American people should be satisfied with a Mutt and Jeff Skyline bracketing Twin Stumps instead of the Twin Towers that they have always preferred. Whatever it takes and whatever the cost, it would be cheap at the price — because in addition to all the awesome symbolism of the Twin Towers reclaiming their place in the skyline would be the ultimate symbolism that the American People are through being manipulated by those who think they are smarter than the rest of us. The mess they have made of Ground Zero settles that conceit.
Given the amount of money they have been playing with as if it’s just Monopoly money, any ten citizens could probably have done better and achieved more, because citizens wouldn’t have been susceptible to all the “special” interests that pock-marked the current project. The deafening message of this World Trade Center is that the people don’t matter, except to foot the bills, and get pushed around as if we are half-wits. It’s time to open the books, get the accounting, and make the World Trade Center all that it can be.
This used to be an exciting city and an exciting country. Nowadays, the most excitement we’ve seen in a long time came from the UK’s royal wedding and Bin Laden’s happy ending. Even the Space Shuttle is being scuttled. But anyone who visits the Twin Towers Alliance site will see renderings of the 21st-century Twin Towers, with the Freedom Tower capped beside them, that only hint at the excitement that would result from taking control of our destiny.
Osama bin Laden loved to portray America as a fraud. On May 5, 2006, the New York Sun published a column by Alicia Colon encouraging people to sign the TTA petition. It concluded: “So far, the will of the people hasn’t amounted to much in this city – but there’s always a first time.” Substitute the word country for city. It is in everybody’s best interests that we succeed.
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