Tom Kean And the 9/11 Commission

When President George W. Bush reluctantly impaneled a blue-ribbon commission to study the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he tried to install Henry Kissinger as its chairman. If nothing else, the President was not being subtle. It was clear he wanted not an investigation, but a cover-up; who better than Mr. Kissinger to make sure that the public discovered exactly nothing about any administration mistakes in the months leading to 9/11?

This odious maneuver was seen for what it was, and a public outcry ensued. Mr. Kissinger was dumped. But who could take his place? Was there any good Republican out there who could be trusted, and yet who might give the appearance of apolitical objectivity? Mr. Bush scanned the horizon and set his sights on a man he recognized: Thomas H. Kean, the former governor of New Jersey. Mr. Kean seemed to be the kind of WASP-y, patrician, Northeastern Republican who could be trusted with the silverware at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport.

Once again, however, Mr. Bush was the victim of faulty intelligence. As anybody on the ground in New Jersey could have told him, Mr. Kean is nobody’s puppet, and nobody’s fool. Under Mr. Kean’s firm guidance, the 9/11 commission has been asking tough questions of officials from two administrations, one Democratic, one Republican. The panel has just one agenda: finding the truth.

Nearly three years ago, as we watched the horror downtown, we asked each other: “How could such a thing happen?” Now, thanks to Mr. Kean’s persistence, that question is getting answered.

Mr. Kean’s work, and that of the other commissioners, is absolutely vital. In order to learn from mistakes of 9/11, we must first identify those mistakes, and do so in a way that is even-handed and nonpartisan. Mr. Kean is doing precisely that.

Perhaps Mr. Bush was counting on Mr. Kean to act like a loyal member of the club rather than an independent public servant charged with grave responsibilities. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Mr. Kean has proven to be a fair-minded and strong chairman and seeker of the truth. Mr. Bush deserves credit for making the right choice, even if he didn’t realize just how right Mr. Kean would be.

A White-Shoe Firm Without a Spine

Although New York continues to be the nation’s safest large city, thanks to policies instituted by Rudolph Giuliani and continued by Michael Bloomberg, there’s no denying that guns remain Public Enemy No. 1. As if to illustrate the point, it was considered big news recently when an entire week passed without a shooting in the Bronx.

That’s good news, for sure, but it also demonstrates the ubiquity of firearms in this city, and in others. Many of these guns are purchased illegally from shady dealers, and they wind up in the hands of people who use them to commit crimes.

Taking a page from the successful tobacco lawsuits, which held that industry responsible for the mayhem caused by its product, the city has filed suit against gunmakers for their complicity in illicit gun sales. To argue its case, the city enlisted the pro bono services of Weil, Gotshal and Manges, the high-powered midtown law firm. The presence of Weil, Gotshal on the city’s side was critical, since the gun industry had lined up some legal powerhouses of its own.

With the trial looming later this year and the gun industry in a frenzy to head off this potentially lethal lawsuit, the city has lost its lawyer. Weil, Gotshal recently announced that it would withdraw from the case, claiming a conflict of interest.

A conflict of interest? That makes it sound as though the firm’s partners sat around the board room, gravely discussing Ethics 101. In fact, it’s pretty clear that the firm’s decision was driven not by conscience but by the bottom line, that great arbiter of high-minded principles.

Weil, Gotshal dropped the city’s case after a lawyer from Smith and Wesson-one of the gun companies cited in the city’s suit-contacted a corporate client he shares with Weil, Gotshal. The corporate client, in turn, got in touch with Weil, Gotshal and apparently expressed some concerns about the suit. Wouldn’t you know: After this conversation, Weil, Gotshal decided that it simply couldn’t handle the suit.

The city is prepared to move forward, but there’s little doubt that Weil, Gotshal’s spineless behavior is a blow to the case. With any luck, a firm made of sterner stuff (and not already bought off by the gunmakers) will step forward to assist the city in its quest for a measure of justice. As for Weil, Gotshal, its shame ought to be endless-assuming, that is, that the firm is capable of shame.

April Is The Cruelest Month

Like a dinner guest with an insatiable thirst, stubborn winter couldn’t take the hint. It overstayed its welcome and then grew belligerent, darkening the skies and wreaking havoc with April schedules built around soccer games and gardening and weekend strolls through Central Park.

There was nothing we could do but wait for the inevitable. Exhausted, winter collapsed in the sunshine of a spectacular April weekend in New York. Temperatures soared to mid-summer levels, and New Yorkers celebrated their liberation from sweaters and umbrella and scarves by streaming into parks, lacing up their rollerblades, grabbing their tennis racquets and strapping the babes of winter into strollers for their first glimpse of the colors of New York.

A glorious spring weekend distracted us, if only for a moment, from dismal reality in Iraq, where April has been a cruel and deadly month. As we streamed into playgrounds, ballfields and outdoor cafés, we were all too aware that unrest in one corner of the globe can bring death and destruction to another, mocking this season of hope and renewal.

For a few hours in the sunshine, however, we embraced life rather than dwell on those who celebrate death. We caught a glimpse of hope in a time of hopelessness. The poet Virgil might have had New York City in 2004 in mind when he wrote in The Aeneid:

“A joy it will be one day, perhaps, to remember even this.”