Strictly Stasi
by Anthony Stasi
May 19, 2009 | 8350 views | 0 0 comments | 617 617 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A few weeks ago I wrote a column about the I-35 bridge in Minnesota and how quickly it was built. In that column, I compared that bridge to the Freedom Tower, which has taken a long time to get momentum. It’s not uncommon for New Yorkers to wonder why the rebuilding process, as well as the memorial effort, seems to take so long. After all, New York City moves quicker than other cities, and we expect our projects to move quickly, too.

Anthoula Katsimatides from Jackson Heights has been active from the beginning in making sure the memorial at the World Trade Center is designed properly and serves the needs of the thousands of families that were affected. Katsimatides lost her brother, John Katsimatides, in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11. She has been involved ever since, serving in Governor Pataki’s Office of Community Affairs, where she heard every suggestion and criticism about the memorial.

As New Yorkers, we want things done at the speed of our city. But the memorial at the World Trade Center in remembrance of September 11 and the museum that goes with it is a national monument. Katsimatides speaks, now eight years removed from that terrible day, with an analytical understanding of a policy expert.

“If you were not closely working in the midst of it all, you cannot possible keep track of what has gone on,” she told me. “So much has been done – the difference [between the 9/11 Memorial and the I-35 Bridge] is that it was a bridge, not 16 acres where close to 3,000 people died, and the bridge project did not have to answer to so many stakeholders. There has been so much progress, from way back – now things have calmed down, and individual organizations are working together – it’s something so unprecedented.”

The World Trade Center Memorial, and the new tower, has a dual responsibility: to first be functional and then to remember history. Other public works projects only need to be functional. Katsimatides credits the governor’s office and local officials for trying to be as sensitive as possible in this situation.You might remember how I mentioned that federal stimulus money had a public comment period for how it was to be spent – that comment period was about one week. But the public comment period for this project is constant. Families had many different opinions about the best way to remember their fallen loved ones.

The memorial will have two waterfalls in the footprints of the old buildings, with the names of the lost engraved in the perimeter walls. But even that was debated a great deal. Some families insisted that relatives be listed with their group (firefighters or companies) and others thinking the listing ought to be random or include a person’s rank. Because of the emotion involved, there were hard feelings every step of the way. And the press did not hesitate to highlight the unhappiness of the families or the pace of the construction.

“There was such pressure on the powers that be – and people love to judge politicians,” Katsimatides said. “They would write (the press) ‘how many breaking ground press conferences did they have?’ When we laid the corner stone for the Freedom Tower it was a big deal. People were crying when we did that. There were several milestones. When the architect was selected it was a milestone.”

It’s easy to sit outside of this process and not appreciate the chaos that goes with it. I had an inside peek at what went on with stimulus spending, and it was only a few weeks ago that people were asking me how to get some of the stimulus money for certain programs, and it is not easy. But you cannot blame people for expecting what they feel is coming to them. Americans want a memorial, which is a good thing.

The museum is being directed by the person that helped start the Holocaust Museum. It will house the “Survivor Staircase” that was used by survivors when they escaped. The museum is going to be underground. It is sacred hallowed ground. The last column which was removed was this tremendous piece of steel; it too will be in the museum.

“Meeting after meeting – it took time.” Katsimatides said.

The building and the memorial need to be done right from the beginning, because this was one of the greatest tragedies to take place on our own soil (although the Civil War and War of 1812 rank pretty high as well). The memorial, museum, and the new tower will need to serve as a reminder that this happened – and regardless of how far it will eventually slip into our past, it is never any less significant or important.

Pol Position

Conservatives are sometimes characterized as being slightly negative. Even my mother wrote me this week, suggesting that I “wrote the book on negativity.” But nobody could ever write the book on negativity - I just do not believe it would ever happen.

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