downtownexpress.com
Volume 19 Issue 50 | April 27 - May 3, 2007

Talking Points

Spitzer’s early missteps are not confined to a stairway

By David Stanke

Just months ago, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. was shutting down. Candidate Spitzer was scoring campaign points by blasting its efforts. Now Governor Spitzer is reactivating the L.M.D.C. He has not indicated his World Trade Center strategy, but the L.M.D.C. has served as a flak jacket for politically difficult decisions. Is Spitzer gearing up for action?

If so, he should consider the results of past W.T.C. leaders before taking action. The men most responsible for W.T.C. redevelopment have been Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki, and Michael Bloomberg. Each approached the W.T.C. differently.

Giuliani’s role was largely ceremonial. He took serious publicity hits when he tried to reduce the presence of firemen during the recovery. He quickly reverted to rhetorical pandering and walked away without responsibility for results. Only Giuliani will get this free pass.

Governor Pataki made statements that sounded good without understanding the implications. His defining statement was his promise to preserve the undefined footprints for the “9/11 families.” Untold delays and cost overruns are rooted in that promise. Pataki established a redevelopment plan, but constantly revised his decisions and could get no results.

Mayor Bloomberg has focused on resolving the real issues. He has challenged any special interest claim and accommodated only the most deserving. He has avoided 9/11 rhetoric and stuck by his decisions. His popularity is soaring despite making tough decisions because he has made real progress.

Talk is cheap at the W.T.C.; action is difficult. Success comes from progress on broadly-supported objectives, ignoring those who use personal objectives to stop progress.

Spitzer has been quick to support critics of the W.T.C. master plan, without understanding the details. Criticizing the W.T.C. plan has become fashionable. But the critics have no responsibility for making decisions and pay no price for delays. Anyone in charge who blocks progress will pay a price. Consider Spitzer’s actions to date.

Spitzer attacked the Freedom Tower, challenging its economic viability. But reestablishing the skyline was one of the most important expectations from W.T.C. development. Redesigning the tower would have delayed progress by years. Spitzer eventually approved the Port Authority plans to build the Freedom Tower.

Spitzer said that the placement of names on the W.T.C. memorial should be reconsidered, after Mayor Bloomberg had finally resolved the issue. After meetings on the issue, Spitzer backed off within days and Bloomberg’s solution still stands.

Spitzer reversed the decision to dismantle the survivors’ staircase. This action is currently delaying construction progress on the east bathtub. No one has a clue where to put the staircase in the short term or long term.

Research into these issues could have saved Spitzer the shots to his credibility. In every case, he has exposed significant downsides with little potential for gain. At least he has backed down on most of these issues.

But why does Spitzer want to reactivate the L.M.D.C.? There is just one significant aspect of the W.T.C. still in limbo: the cultural plan. Every aspect of cultural plans has fallen apart. Two exhibition institutions and one performance group have been dumped. There is not even space for public performances that were previously held in the W.T.C. plaza.

The plan for the W.T.C., backed by public comments, was to create a vital 24/7 community. There are still opportunities to fulfill this vision. Bloomberg supports the arts. Together, he and Spitzer could put culture back on the map. In the long run, very few people will care where the staircase goes or how big it is, but everyone’s experience of the W.T.C. will be enhanced by establishing a solid cultural center.
If Governor Spitzer considers his early W.T.C. missteps and the performances of others, he may make a real mark on the site. To succeed, he will have to establish a strong, intelligent and executable plan. He will have to defend it against the special interests that will inevitably attack it. And he will need Bloomberg’s support. But revitalized culture may not be Spitzer’s objective. He may just be the latest in a long line of people throwing cogs in the wheels of progress at the W.T.C.


David Stanke lives and writes in Downtown Manhattan. His e-mail is davestanke@ebond.com





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