The 9/11 Memorial:
Dignity, Not Dollars
The two towers of the World Trade Center cost more than a billion dollars to build. It may cost the same amount of money to build a memorial to those who died at the site on Sept. 11, 2001.
It goes without saying that a fitting memorial must be included in the redevelopment of Ground Zero. We owe that much to those who died, and those who have yet to be born—generations who will learn about Sept. 11 in history books. The dead must be remembered and their survivors comforted.
But surely a billion dollars is far too much to pay for a memorial. Such a price tag suggests not that we will never forget what happened on 9/11; rather, the figure suggests that we had no clear vision for the site, that we lacked the genius required to speak to past, present and future generations. Instead, we simply chose to spend money and hope for the best.
This plan of action offers no dignity for the dead and no solace for the grieving. A memorial to one of America’s saddest days is on the verge of becoming a pedestrian public-works project. And there is no reason why the memorial should be a tax burden to future New Yorkers, with high maintenance costs that require massive subsidy.
On behalf of the dead, the living and the generations to come, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Governor George Pataki of New York must step in to prevent the memorial from becoming a fiasco, a piece of mismanaged property on the verge of becoming, regrettably, lower Manhattan’s answer to Boston’s Big Dig. As guardians of the public trust, they cannot allow this project to become a boondoggle.
The delays at Ground Zero have been difficult enough to bear. Turning the memorial into a money pit because we lack the vision to create something memorable would be worse than unkind. It would be an insult to the memory of those who died, and to the grief of those who mourn them.
There’s no question that a memorial at Ground Zero will be complicated to build and maintain. Comparisons with the costs of other memorials are not necessarily valid. Comparisons with the artistry of other memorials, however, are completely valid. Thus far, what is most impressive about the Ground Zero memorial is its price tag. We can and must do better.
The Teachers’ Union Fails to Do the Math
When a union decides to spend $1 million on an advertising campaign aimed at New Yorkers, the union’s motives and methods deserve close examination. Last week, Randi Weingarten, the president of the New York City teachers’ union, announced that her union is committing that significant sum to a public campaign to reduce class size, with an end goal of putting a class-size referendum before New York voters on an upcoming ballot. Ramping up to that goal, the union will be running ads on television and the Internet and picketing outside various schools. The union has enlisted the respected author Frank McCourt, a former teacher, as a spokesman.
Surely this is all to the good: The city’s overcrowded classrooms, with as many as 30 to 40 students crammed into one room, place an undue burden on teachers and increase the chances that promising students will be overlooked. The union’s plan, however, might very well be a disaster for the city. In fact, should a referendum requiring smaller class sizes be placed on a ballot and pass, the cost to the city could be staggering, easily into the billions of dollars. To impose limits on class size is a sure way to drive up taxes or force cutbacks in other essential services.
There are currently about 77,000 teachers citywide, with an average annual salary of about $60,000. That adds up to $4.62 billion—not including pension and health-insurance costs. To reduce class size by, say, a third, one can assume the city would need to immediately hire at least 25,000 additional teachers. Even if they were all rookie teachers at the current starting pay of $42,512, that’s $1.06 billion right there.
Ms. Weingarten will have a hard time making Mayor Bloomberg, who opposes the referendum, into a villain on this issue: He has consistently been a leader on education reform. Specifically, the city is in the midst of a major capital program to build new classrooms; the Mayor’s success at getting the state to contribute to school construction costs will ultimately lead to as many as 65,000 new seats in city classrooms. In addition, class sizes have been decreasing over the past three years. Meanwhile, Mr. Bloomberg has been aggressively raising funds for his goal of establishing small schools of fewer than 500 students; his administration has opened 149 small middle and high schools to date. And he has been good to teachers, as witnessed by his recent contract with the union that gave teachers a 33 percent pay raise.
The referendum is a misguided effort by the teachers’ union to make public policy, and it could set a dangerous precedent. Do New Yorkers truly want the city’s spending choices to be decided by an emotionally charged popular vote? Would Ms. Weingarten want a referendum on teacher salaries?
Most significantly, the referendum, if passed, would needlessly endanger the city’s economic base at a time when we have a Mayor who is showing that he is a more-than-capable steward of the city’s finances, and its children.
Abe Rosenthal, who died last week at the age of 84 in Manhattan, was arguably the greatest newspaper editor who ever lived. Raised in true poverty in the Bronx, he embodied the American dream as he rose to not only become editor of The New York Times, but to profoundly transform the paper into the journalistic institution it is today.
His early-life deprivation—he lost four of his five sisters, as well as his father, when he was a young boy, and he himself was afflicted with a bone-marrow disease—imparted to him a ferocious lifelong hunger to right wrongs and help the downtrodden. He attended City College, where he became a campus correspondent for The Times, the paper that would hire him in 1944 and become his home, and safe harbor, for the next 50 years. At The Times, he was able to convey his ideas about justice, tyranny and social responsibility, first through his work as a Pulitzer Prize–winning foreign correspondent and then as editor of the Metro Section and, eventually, as the paper’s editor. It was from that powerful perch that Rosenthal remade The Times: It was 1969, and the paper was a very staid publication. But with the collapse of New York’s other great newspapers, such as the Herald Tribune, Rosenthal was given free rein by the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Sr., to revolutionize the paper and bring new talent and bold ideas on board. He did so, compelled by a burning mission to turn The Times into the world’s most literary, brilliantly reported newspaper. And he succeeded, overseeing coverage of the Pentagon Papers, Vietnam, Watergate and a host of world events.
Abe Rosenthal used to tell his reporters about a recurring nightmare he had: In the nightmare, he would wake up, get dressed and go out to the street, only to find that there were no copies of The New York Times to be found. The nightmare perhaps indicated what importance The Times had for him, and the sense of safety and comfort it gave him. He, of course, gave the paper back so much more—and, in so doing, he gave New Yorkers the gift of a great newspaper.