Pataki’s Side Grabs Control Of Tower Site

As he spoke to a crowd of 700 gathered at the South Street

Seaport earlier this month, Charles Gargano emphasized the urgency of beginning

to rebuild lower Manhattan. Time was of the essence, said Mr. Gargano, who is

Governor George Pataki’s economic-development czar. Mr. Gargano then ventured

onto controversial ground by giving his blessing to developer Larry

Silverstein’s plan to start rebuilding the World Trade Center site in June.

A few hours later, Louis Tomson, the new executive director of

the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, spoke to the same audience. Mr.

Tomson is a loyal Pataki lieutenant who, technically speaking, now works for

Mr. Gargano. But he delivered a different message. “I don’t think we should be

proceeding [with 7 World Trade Center] until we have a clear idea what the

impact is on the remainder of the site,” Mr. Tomson said.

No wonder the rest of the world is confused. And as Mr. Pataki

faces mounting criticism of the pace of the redevelopment project-in an

election year, no less-two factions within the Governor’s inner circle are

battling for his ear. Which side wins could determine what lower Manhattan looks like decades from

now-and whether Mr. Pataki is still Governor at this time next year.

One faction-call them the “Go-Slows”-is led by John Whitehead,

the chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, who is arguing for

inclusive deliberation and careful planning. But another group-call them the

“Hurry-Ups”-is beginning to chafe at Mr. Whitehead’s cautious pace.

“I think there is a sense that Whitehead is moving too slow,”

said one state official. “And there is an

increasing level of frustration.”

Mr. Whitehead stood firm on his schedule. The board, he said, had

only recently appointed a number of advisory boards representing the families

of victims of the attacks, the business community and other interest groups.

“Right now, we’re in the listening mode,” Mr. Whitehead said. “Action for

action’s sake is not our method of doing business.”

Pataki spokesman Mike McKeon

denied that there’s any rift in the Governor’s camp. “I think there’s one

school [of thought], and that is that the Governor has made clear that this is

going to be a collaborative process,” he said. “It’s going to move at the

appropriate pace, respectful of the fact that this is still a place where [the

remains of] police, firemen and civilians are found on a regular basis.”

But the conflict is real, and growing more serious as Mr. Pataki

faces two fast-approaching deadlines. One is in May, when his administration

estimates the cleanup effort will be finished. The other is in November, when

voters will go to the polls to decide whether to give him a third term.

The Hurry-Ups argue that Mr. Whitehead is squandering the

redevelopment project’s momentum. But there is also some cold political

calculation involved. In this election year, the rebuilding project will offer

Mr. Pataki a steady stream of ribbon-cuttings, press conferences and photo

opportunities-and the opportunity to channel billions in public money to the

city. And with billions in government contracts to be let, the redevelopment

project is a potential fund-raising engine, political strategists said.

“The Governor is doing his job. But the truth is he’s up for

re-election,” said Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New

York. “The Democrats are going to try to attack him on [redevelopment, and]

he’s going to point to his accomplishments.”

In fact, the attacks have already begun. They started last fall,

when Congressional Democrats sniped that Mr. Pataki’s request for $54 billion

in emergency aid-which included money for peripheral projects like the

now-infamous high-speed train to Schenectady-undermined the city’s fight for

more money. The attacks continued in mid-February, when Andrew Cuomo, one of

the two Democrats who want to challenge Mr. Pataki this year, assailed him for

hosting President George W. Bush at a fund-raiser at a time when it appeared

the administration was trying to wiggle out of the $20 billion in aid it had

committed to.

“He’s been unable to deliver the $20 billion in federal aid the

President promised; he came forward with a plan that was laughed out of

Washington; his redevelopment commission has moved too slowly,” said Cuomo

spokesman Josh Isay.

Some political insiders have doubts about such a line of

attack-it could look like an attempt to make political hay out of a tragedy. “I

don’t think this stuff has yet moved into the political calculus, and I think

frankly that Cuomo’s efforts to bring it into the political calculus are very

obvious, heavy-handed and a failure,” said Pataki political strategist Kieran

Mahoney.

Criticism Stings

But criticism of the project’s pace, murmured among business

leaders and splashed across newspaper editorial pages, has begun to sting. No

decision the Governor makes is likely to please all of the many constituencies

with a stake in the redevelopment. But there may be danger, too, in dawdling.

“There’s a trade-off. If he moves

too fast, he’ll invoke the hostility of residents down there and the bereaved,”

said Fred Siegel, a professor of history at Cooper Union. “If he moves slowly,

he avoids a brouhaha, but he underscores one of the key [negative] perceptions

about him, which is that he’s a do-nothing.”

Mr. Siegel said Mr. Gargano’s announcement of support for Mr.

Silverstein’s 7 World Trade Center reconstruction proposal is an important

indication that the Governor has decided on a faster course. “That decision,

assuming it sticks, is bound to roil a fair number of people,” he said-among

them Mr. Whitehead, who has argued that the 7 World Trade Center site, which

cuts off Greenwich Street, should be integrated into the overall project’s

master plan.

Mr. Whitehead downplayed the

apparent disagreement between Mr. Gargano and Mr. Tomson, which was first

reported in an e-mail newsletter published by the magazine Grid . But when asked about Mr. Gargano’s position, he said he

favored a slower approach.

“I think it’s important that something be done there, but on the

other hand, it’s equally important that that building be done right,” said Mr.

Whitehead. He added that Mr. Silverstein wouldn’t be able to break ground until

fall-and then only with his commission’s approval. “There’s still a lot of work

to be done between now and then,” he said.

It’s an open secret that Mr.

Whitehead and Mr. Gargano-who chairs the Empire State Development Corporation,

the agency that oversees Mr. Whitehead’s panel-don’t always see eye to eye. Mr.

Whitehead took the job declaring his independence from political pressure and

saying that he would report solely to the Governor, not Mr. Gargano.

Some raised eyebrows when Mr. Whitehead repeatedly recounted, in

speeches and in The Observer , an

anecdote about how, as a deputy Secretary of State during the Reagan

administration, he swore in Mr. Gargano as ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago.

Many took it as Mr. Whitehead’s way of saying he was still the boss. Mr.

Whitehead, however, denied any tension. “Charlie and I are good friends, and

the people who set up these wild ideas about us feuding with each other are

completely wrong,” he said.

“I think Chairman Whitehead

and his board really deserve all the time they need,” said Mr. Gargano, who

said he has a “very good” relationship with Mr. Whitehead. He said the

redevelopment effort would continue on “parallel tracks,” with his agency handling

emergency aid and Mr. Whitehead’s the long-term planning. “For anyone at this

point to say the process is going too slow-it’s a real asshole statement to

make.”

Other redevelopment insiders,

however, said that Mr. Gargano has been arguing behind the scenes for a faster

pace.

Mr. Whitehead’s views can’t be dismissed, because he has so much

money to play with. When Congress appropriated $2.7 billion in emergency aid

for the city last winter-in the form of block grants with few strings

attached-New York’s Democrats made sure a sizable portion of the money,

expected to be $2 billion, would go directly to Mr. Whitehead’s commission. The

idea was to keep the money as far as possible from the Governor and Mr.

Gargano, his top fund-raiser, in an election year, a Congressional aide said.

“He could use it as a political slush fund,” said Representative Jerrold

Nadler, the Democrat who represents lower Manhattan.

At Mr. Gargano’s Empire State Development Corporation, there are

plans to quickly spend its $700 million, offering much-needed assistance to

downtown businesses in chunks of $100,000 or more. Mr. Whitehead’s commission

plans to spend $500 million on similar programs. It will try to hold onto the

other $1.5 billion, eventually using it for more ambitious projects like

infrastructure improvements and a memorial. Decisions on such projects might

not come until after the election.

“You don’t make a decision about how to spend $2 billion like

you’re going to the Wal-Mart,” said Madelyn Wils, the local community-board

chairwoman and a member of the LMDC’s board.

In his first two months at the redevelopment commission, Mr.

Whitehead has heartened community leaders and civic activists by assembling the

advisory boards and inviting public input. Translating aspiration into reality,

however, has been difficult. It took six weeks for him to make his first big

hire, Mr. Tomson, who will run the day-to-day business of the commission. His

small staff only moved into temporary offices in 1 Liberty Plaza this week.

Some of the advisory boards have yet to meet, and some of their members only

found out that they were members when they read about their appointments in a

newspaper.

Downtown, powerful property owners and corporate executives are

beginning to wonder whether Mr. Whitehead’s “listening mode” is intended as a

stalling tactic to let Mr. Pataki put off tough decisions until after the

election.

“One theory is that there’s no malice aforethought, it’s just

total disorganization,” said a local Manhattan business leader who is following

the redevelopment process. “The other theory is that the Whitehead commission

is just a giant distraction that gets them through November.”

State officials expect things

to proceed more smoothly now that Mr. Tomson, Mr. Pataki’s longtime

friend,  is on hand to run things. “I

think we’re going to see a rapid pickup in the pace right now,” said Daniel Doctoroff,

Mayor Bloomberg’s top economic-development adviser, who has been informally

sitting in on the commission’s meetings.

Mr. Whitehead said the advisory committees should have an initial

report ready by March 15. Then he plans to promulgate a list of loose

“guidelines” for the redevelopment process. In early February, the commission

also hired a new planning director, Alex Garvin.

“I think they really want to

do the right thing, and they’re looking for the bold move here,” said Robert

Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association.

“Recognizing that we have an opportunity to set the course for

lower Manhattan for decades,” Mr. Doctoroff said, “it would be stupid to rush

into something.” Pataki’s Side Grabs Control Of Tower Site