Volume 21, Number 34 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | January 2 - 8, 2009

Editorial

Some Deutsche answers

District Attorney Robert Morgenthau gave us half a loaf last week in his report on the fire at the former Deutsche Bank building. While he began to answer some of the questions officials have been ducking in the 16 months since two firefighters died battling the fire there, he left many critical questions unanswered and implausibly held only lower level officials criminally accountable.

His report, unveiled with the indictment of three private contractors on manslaughter charges, makes clear that the building’s owner, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., and the city were far more negligent than we could have imagined.

There were several clear, public signs before the deaths that there were problems at the demolition site near the World Trade Center — that’s why we called for new oversight of the project three months before the fire — but Morgenthau’s team of prosecutors revealed a mountain of evidence of problems that were apparently ignored.

The L.M.D.C.’s leader then and now, Avi Schick, was appointed by then Gov. Eliot Spitzer to run the corporation early in 2007. He had no political ties to his predecessors’ mistakes and should have reacted to all of the alarm bells by taking steps to fix the problems at 130 Liberty St. Instead, by all appearances, he continued down the dangerous path.

The corporation still tries to keep information from the public. At a recent advisory meeting on the project, officials did not disclose to community leaders that a 2-foot metal rod fell off the building until someone specifically asked if anything new had fallen off. The L.M.D.C., unlike the city, still has not admitted specific mistakes.

Mayor Bloomberg wants to close it as an active organization, and we think he’s right. The corporation has long outlived its effectiveness, but its horrendous record at Deutsche is reason enough. Gov. Paterson, who shares control of the corporation with the city, should end his resistance. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has probably been the most effective advocate for Downtown since 9/11 and we hope he drops his defense of the corporation.

But closing the L.M.D.C. is not enough. The mayor has admitted that his Buildings and Fire Departments did not properly monitor the project. With the criminal investigation into the fire over, he has begun investigations into his administration and we expect to see major shakeups at or near the top of both agencies. We’d be more reassured if there was also an independent review.

Morgenthau outlined problems with F.D.N.Y. supervisors but blamed low-level Buildings Dept. inspectors instead of looking at the top. The building had regulators from a host of city, state and federal agencies. It’s not plausible that the problems went undiscovered simply because of “inexperienced” inspectors, given there was tremendous public pressure to take the building down quickly.

The problems at Bovis Lend Lease, the general contractor which hired a subcontractor with mob ties, obviously go beyond its site safety manager, who was indicted. Bovis cut corners by not repairing the standpipe, and we still do not know which top executives failed in supervision. Even if they did not commit crimes, the public would be well served by knowing who they are, given the firm still has the contract.

The civil suits may eventually be able to answer the remaining questions, but the public should not have to rely on private lawyers to get life and death information.




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