In 1972, when Northern Ireland’s bloody Troubles had a quarter-century still to run, the Belfast-born poet John Hewitt created stark lines that still resonate far from that small, benighted place.
“Bear in mind these dead,” he wrote of the victims of the conflict. “I can find no plainer words.”
The poet’s plea for uncomplicated compassion seems especially poignant when one contemplates the morass into which plans for the rebuilding of Ground Zero have sunk.
The highest-profile squabble is between developer Larry Silverstein, who holds the lease for the World Trade Center site, Governor George Pataki and several other parties.
At issue is the building of the Freedom Tower and the four other skyscrapers that are planned for Ground Zero alongside the official memorial and museum.
The basic sticking point is money. Mr. Silverstein claims he wants to go ahead with the rebuilding, but he has also been working to extract the best possible deal from the Governor and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site.
For their part, officials are said to be concerned that Mr. Silverstein doesn’t have the cash to complete the project. They fear he may ultimately default on his lease after building only the most commercially viable towers.
Last week, an attempt by Mr. Pataki to find a solution foundered. He floated a proposal that would have freed Mr. Silverstein from financial obligations in relation to the Freedom Tower, which is slated to cost around $2 billion.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine kiboshed that idea, apparently believing it involved the reckless use of taxpayers’ money.
There are no heroes in the episode. Mr. Pataki has failed to provide effective leadership at Ground Zero; Mr. Silverstein seemed to torpedo a previous set of negotiations by making unrealistic last-minute demands; Mayor Bloomberg has only lately begun to pay full attention to the downtown site, after being preoccupied with his dream of a West Side Stadium; and Mr. Corzine appears to be using the logjam to advance his plan for a new Hudson River rail tunnel.
The building of the Freedom Tower and the broader regeneration of Ground Zero would pay tribute to the very best of New York’s spirit—to courage, resilience and vitality. The current stalemate is instead a dismal testament to the worst characteristics of the city and its power players—to greed, egotism and chicanery.
The trouble at Ground Zero doesn’t begin or end with the Freedom Tower, of course. There are also continuing protests by some relatives of the dead about the adjacent memorial.
The bereaved can draw on a great ocean of sympathy. But however much one feels for those who have been enveloped by grief, their loss does not automatically render every one of their arguments correct.
At times, relatives’ groups have laid out strong cases on important issues. Their fight against the International Freedom Center and, especially, the Drawing Center was a righteous one. Its success has ensured that the place where their loved ones died will not become a venue for crass controversialism.
But in recent months, some relatives have moved on to other, less vital topics. And they have done so in a way that suggests their motivation, conscious or otherwise, is to keep fighting those in charge of building the memorial on any possible grounds.
Among the things that continue to draw protests are: supposed safety concerns about the memorial; preservation issues relating to the structural foundations of the Twin Towers; the likelihood that the museum will charge non-relatives for admission; the plan to have a portion of the memorial underground rather than aboveground; and the ordering of the list of victims’ names.
Of these, the issues that sound most serious—safety and preservation—appear to have been comprehensively addressed already. Architects working on the memorial, for example, say they have designed exits that can accommodate thousands more people than are ever expected to be there.
Meanwhile, reopening other largely settled debates like the location of the museum would be worse than pointless—it would suggest that the arguments about commemorating Sept.11 will be allowed to stretch out forever. At this point, any changes would also be guaranteed to upset as many relatives as they appeased.
Not even the coldest heart could be without sympathy for someone like Rosaleen Tallon, the sister of a firefighter who died on Sept. 11. Ms. Tallon last month ended a 17-night vigil at the site to protest the underground memorial.
But there must be sympathy too for those relatives who have not raised their voices and who simply want to press ahead with a proper commemoration of their loved ones.
Those people have waited too long already. Further bitter discussion will only prolong their pain, holding open their scars.
The fighting over Ground Zero needs to end. It’s time to press on.
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