The Biggest Shrug

wtc september 2009 credit joe woolhead The Biggest ShrugFor years, the World Trade Center occupied a prominent stage in New York politics, as elected officials jostled over questions of design, governance and delays before an engaged public audience. But as the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 approaches and the redevelopment once again is tied up in delays and hurdles, it’s becoming clear that the site has fully lost whatever place it once held, perhaps to the point where it has passed as a political issue of any strength at all.

Not that there’s nothing to discuss. The more–than–$10 billion project is as troubled as ever—gripped by a months-long stalemate between the public-sector owner and its private developer that threatens to add years of delays to large portions of the project (some components are more than five years behind initial schedules) and hundreds of millions in additional public costs.

Yet with the city campaign season in full swing—normally a time when any and every public boondoggle is exploited by insurgents against incumbents—the World Trade Center has come up about as much as proposals to raise taxes on the poor: that is to say, not at all. Unions, which typically offer a deafening roar when the prospect of more work awaits, are mum, as are most civic groups.

And the one notable attempt by any elected officials to end the current impasse—Mayor Bloomberg and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver applied heavy pressure on Governor Paterson to use more public financing on the project—ended in failure, at least for now. In August, the state’s chief executive easily brushed aside the appeal from the two prominent politicians, with no outcry to speak of from the public or from interest groups despite a continued lack of resolution.

“Other politicians view it as toxic,” said a former state official. “Not the borough presidents, not the City Council members—they’ve all run for the hills on this.”

The result is a situation in which there is little to gain for any elected official to stick his or her neck out and speak up on New York City’s biggest construction project, an apparent product of the issue’s tremendous complexity; a paucity of easy solutions; and the broader political and popular fatigue of a familiar story line (more delays!) as the years since 9/11 tick away.