The New York Mayoral campaign was suspended in the aftermath of the horrific terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, when Governor George Pataki issued an order to suspend primary elections across the state.
In the pandemonium following the attack, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani rushed downtown to attend an emergency meeting, and was temporarily trapped in a building on Barclay Street by falling debris. The candidates to replace him, who were spread out at Primary Day campaign events across the city, rushed home to their families or headed towards the disaster area to volunteer their help, immediately calling off the activities of the tens of thousands of field workers and volunteers who were making phone calls and handing out campaign literature. Within minutes of the attack, representatives of the four main Democratic candidates had contacted each other to plan a joint statement supporting a suspension of the election.
Comptroller Alan Hevesi had been campaigning in Borough Park when the first plane crashed into the tower at around 9 a.m. His first thought, he said, was that it had been some sort of accident. Then there was another explosion. “At the second hit, we knew it was terrorists,” he told The Observer .
Mr. Hevesi rushed to the Municipal Building in downtown Manhattan, where, standing on the fifth floor surrounded by his son, Dan, a State Senator, and some senior staff, he saw both towers collapse. After a brief pause, he emerged from the building to volunteer his help to the Police Department officials who were coordinating rescue efforts from nearby Foley Square. “This is beyond belief,” he said, visibly upset and speaking over the noise of multiple ambulance sirens. “You wouldn’t find it credible if it were in a movie.” Mr. Hevesi said that he had little doubt about what would constitute an appropriate response to the terrorist attack. “The U.S. should respond with as much savagery as is imaginable. The people who did this, they must die.”
City Council Speaker Peter Vallone was driving on Grand Central Parkway to his campaign headquarters in Astoria from an event in Bay Terrace, Queens, when he and his aides saw enormous billows of gray smoke rising behind the lower Manhattan skyline. At that moment, an aide in the car received a call from headquarters telling them that the first plane had struck the World Trade Center.
Mr. Vallone’s first reaction was “horror,” he told The Observer .
“Nothing like that had happened since I was 5 years old and our whole fleet at Pearl Harbor was decimated,” Mr. Vallone said. “This is the first sneak attack on our country since that time.”
As the first tower burned, Mr. Vallone and his staff members rushed to a hair salon on Steinway Street in Astoria, owned by an old friend. As they watched the unfolding disaster on TV, there was a sudden flash: A plane had slammed into the second tower.
After sitting in stunned silence for several minutes, Mr. Vallone and an aide made their way back to the Speaker’s house nearby, where they remained for a while with Mr. Vallone’s family. Then Mr. Vallone decided to help in a more direct way.
At around 10 a.m., Mr. Vallone went to the foot of the 59th Street Bridge in Queens to greet the thousands of pedestrians fleeing the mayhem in Manhattan. He handed out thousands of sandwiches from a local political club that had been prepared for his army of campaign workers, and distributed cups of cold
“These New Yorkers, they weren’t scared, they weren’t running, they weren’t yelling,” Mr. Vallone said afterwards. “No panic. No one knew at that time if another plane was coming through here. Best people in the world.”
At around 2 p.m., Mr. Vallone was still there, giving
Michael Bloomberg, the media mogul and Republican candidate, first heard news of the atrocity as he arrived at campaign headquarters on East 56th Street, after casting his vote at a polling place on East 81st Street. After watching televised reports for a few minutes, he rushed over to Bloomberg L.P., his media company headquarters.
There, he was faced with the task of reaching out to the families of three missing Bloomberg employees who had gone to morning appointments in the World Trade Center. As of press time, the employees were still unaccounted for.
After making several phone calls, Mr. Bloomberg went to the New York Blood Center, where, as was the case at blood-collection centers across the city, there were more donors than the facility could process. He resolved to return later in the day.
In the meantime, a Bloomberg office building in lower Manhattan is being used by the New York Police Department and the National Guard for various operations relating to the disaster, according to a campaign spokesman.
Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer was on his way to a campaign event in Manhattan when he learned of the incident. He went immediately to his office in the Bronx to work the telephones and find out as much as he could about the incident, and then visited victims who had been brought to area hospitals. Public Advocate Mark Green, who had also been campaigning in Manhattan, returned to his Upper East Side apartment, where he watched events unfold on television with his family.
At around 11:00 a.m., the New York City Board of Elections announced that it had obtained a court order suspending the elections, and that it had no idea when the voting would be rescheduled. Shortly thereafter, the Democrats sent out their joint statement.
“Today’s cowardly attack is an outrage and an unthinkable tragedy,” it read. “The four of us stand together to support the victims and their families and to do whatever we can to assist the Governor, the Mayor and the thousands of police officers, firefighters and emergency-services personnel who are working so hard to save lives. The need to support our fellow New Yorkers is far more important than any election, and we support the decision to cancel today’s primary. Today is not a day for politics. It is a time for all New Yorkers to come together to comfort the friends and families of the victims and to ensure that cowardly terrorists not be allowed to tear apart the fabric of our city.”
–Greg Sargent contributed to this report.