Volume 16 • Issue 18 | Sept 30 - Oct 06, 2003

Dem contenders come Downtown

By Josh Rogers

Downtown Express photos by Lorenzo Ciniglio

Gov. Howard Dean surrounded by reporters in the Pace gym.

The 10 Democratic candidates for president were debating five blocks from the World Trade Center site last week, but you would have hardly known it except for moderator Brian Williams reminding viewers after commercials that they were at “Pace University in Lower Manhattan.”

Carol Moseley Braun, often described as one of the three candidates least likely to win the Democratic nomination, was the only one to mention the proximity of the W.T.C. She contrasted the big salaries of Richard Grasso, former head of the New York Stock Exchange, and other Wall St. executives with those of the small business owners who were struggling near the “hallowed ground” of the site.

Following the Sept. 25 debate, Braun and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut offered the clearest commitment to increasing federal aid to Lower Manhattan beyond the $21.4 billion President George W. Bush and Congress approved after the 2001 terrorist attack.

“I would — ” Lieberman said in the Pace gym after the debate.

“Of course he would,” chimed in Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Lieberman supporter who was standing next to the senator in the Pace gym.

“I’ve been working with the speaker as well as with Senators [Chuck] Schumer and Clinton and I will continue to do that,” Lieberman added.

New York officials estimate that the city’s economic loss was between $80 billion and $100 billion, and Hillary Clinton has said that New York should get at least $10 billion more to match the percentage of federal support for other disasters such as the Oklahoma City bombing.

Four other presidential candidates were asked by Downtown Express if they favor more aid. They gave varying degrees of support without a firm promise, but none mentioned the growing federal deficit as a competing problem.

Retired General Wesley Clark, the newest entry into the race, said: “We need to do more for our urban areas. I don’t think New York got everything it was promised. The first thing it didn’t get was honesty – on its air quality.”

Clark was referring to an Environmental Protection Agency inspector general’s report which criticized former E.P.A. administrator Christie Whitman for declaring that the Lower Manhattan air was safe to breathe after the destruction of the Twin Towers before she had enough evidence to make the claim. Whitman admitted in a recent Newsweek interview that she allowed White House aides to shape the E.P.A. message and downplay possible dangers about Lower Manhattan air.

U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, the former House majority leader, criticized President George W. Bush for holding on to 9/11 funds too long. “This aid, in my view, has come too slow,” he said. “I’ve been in favor of New York getting extra aid in the form of homeland security and that can also be used for rebuilding,” presumably in the form of building security features at the W.T.C.

Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina said New York was “devastated” economically by the attack. “I think we need to be constantly looking for ways to help the city,” Edwards said.

Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, the only senator running for president who voted against the resolution authorizing war with Iraq, said it is important to provide enough support to New York City. “I don’t know what the right number is,” Graham told Downtown Express at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Midtown after the debate. “The federal government made a commitment to the people of this city and it must be a reliable partner as the city recovers from 9/11.”

Eric Schmeltzer, a spokesperson for Dr. Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, issued a prepared statement to Downtown Express: “The governor supports doing whatever needs to be done to see New York through any lingering effects of the 9/11 attacks and as president, would work very closely with…the New York delegation to formulate exactly what is needed from the federal government to insure that New York can fully recover.”

Schmeltzer said Dean has also called for a Justice Dept. inquiry into the E.P.A. response to the attack and a recleaning of Downtown apartments that have not been properly cleaned by E.P.A. contractors.

Spokespersons for the other three Democratic candidates, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Rev. Al Sharpton, did not answer Downtown Express’ question about aid to Lower Manhattan.

Braun, the former senator from Illinois and ambassador to New Zealand, said Bush and his aides like to “wave the Sept. 11 flag, but then they don’t tell the truth about air quality or help the businesses that are suffering. New York needs all of the help it can get…. This is the greatest city in the world, and I say that as a Chicagoan.”

Her aide said that Braun was planning a walking tour of Lower Manhattan.

Responding to a question during the debate about Grasso’s resignation from the Big Board, Braun said, “The fact of the matter is, we are right now at Pace University that is in walking distance of Wall St. on the one hand, but also in walking distance to a main street that suffered from the tragedy of Sept. 11th…. We are near hallowed ground in this country. And when you look at the small businesses nearby the... site of the World Trade Center, what has happened to them is emblematic of the kind of excesses and the failure to build community that this administration has demonstrated.”

Later, she said her use of the phrase “hallowed ground” did not mean she had an opinion as to how much of the W.T.C. site should be preserved for a memorial.

Business effects

The debate, sponsored by CNBC and the Wall Street Journal, drew thousands of campaign supporters to City Hall Park – many, if not most, rallied for Dean — and 350 journalists who watched on television monitors in the Pace gymnasium, a.k.a. “Spin Alley.” But local businesses reported little spike in sales.

The hot dog vendor outside of Pace said he made about $50, which may have been a little bit more, but he pointed disgustedly to dozens of unused buns as he packed up for the day. “People no buy,” said the vendor, who declined to give his name. The clerk at Optimo Convenience Store said he didn’t notice any difference.
Similarly, a salesperson at J & R Music World’s camera shop said he didn’t notice media photographers coming in to buy memory cards or batteries. “These guys are usually loaded for bear when they go out,” he said.

Candidates clash

Clark joined the race two weeks ago and there was additional media coverage because it was his first debate. Although he has leapfrogged toward the top in the polls, his opponents saved their slings for Dean, also considered a frontrunner.

Gephardt accused Dean of backing cuts to Medicare in the 1990s while Kerry and Lieberman criticized Dean for favoring an end to the middle class portion of Bush’s tax cuts.

“The middle class never got a tax cut for us to defend,” Dean said. “Their college tuitions went up. Their property taxes went up. Fire and police and first response services are going down and local people are having to pay for that…. Washington politicians [are] promising people everything. You can have tax cuts, you can have insurance, you can have special education.”

As for trade policy, Kerry referred to a Washington Post article in which Dean said he would not sign trade agreements with any country that didn’t have the “same labor laws and labor standards and environmental standards” as the U.S. Kerry said that would prevent America from signing a trade pact with any country.

Later on, when Dean was asked specifically to clarify his trade position, he said agreements should follow international standards, but he did not say if he misspoke or was misquoted by the Post.

Dean criticized Clark a few days later for praising members of the incoming Bush administration in 2001, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. The Republican National Committee posted Clark’s comments on its Web site the day of the debate, and Clark seemed to be combating the charge during his speech to the D.N.C. in the evening.

He said he spoke with “Condi” before she took office and was disturbed to hear that the security advisor thought the U.S. military should only be used for offensive actions and not peacekeeping missions.

Clark, who was NATO commander, and led the U.S. action in Kosovo under President Clinton, said, “I fought my buddies in the Pentagon who thought it was all right to fight for oil, but didn’t realize it was far better to fight for human rights and what we believe in.”

He said he found it “deeply offensive” to see Bush use military personnel as “props,” in an obvious reference to the president’s fighter plane landing.

Clark surprised his supporters on his first day on the campaign trail when he said he would have probably voted for the Iraq war resolution, but he has since retracted the statement and has sharpened his anti-war message, putting him more in line with Dean’s position.

“And then 9/11 came along and I watched our foreign policy go astray,” Clark said at the D.N.C. meeting Thursday night. “Almost immediately, they focused on Iraq and not Osama bin Laden.”

Bush ordered an attack on Afghanistan within weeks of the Sept. 11 attack. He did not put Iraq in the “axis of evil” until January 2002 and did not attack Iraq until this spring.

Clark told the Democratic crowd that he would attract independent swing voters. “I’m your newest Democrat,” he said. “I’ll be joined by hundreds of thousands and millions more.”

The Democratic primary in New York will be March 2.



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