By Julie Shapiro
City Council candidate Pete Gleason is so concerned about the long-delayed 9/11 memorial at the World Trade Center site that he thinks most other work on the site should wait until the memorial is complete.
Gleason, 46, said he is frustrated by the inaction of the Port Authority, which owns the site, and the incumbent Councilmember Alan Gerson. The lack of even a temporary memorial at the Trade Center site “is a disgrace,” Gleason said during a 45-minute interview last week with editors and reporters of Downtown Express.
To expedite the memorial construction, Gleason suggested delaying the building of towers along Church St. Developer Silverstein Properties has begun building Tower 4 but would need public subsidies to finish it and to start the other two towers. Gleason opposes granting those subsidies.
“That can be a vacant spot while the memorial is being built,” Gleason said of the sites for the three Church St. towers. “The locations you’re talking about can be used as construction staging areas for building this memorial…. The first and foremost thing that should be built is the memorial.”
Gleason’s hesitancy to spend public money on private office towers is similar to the Port Authority’s position in the dispute with Silverstein. But Gleason made it clear that he’s no friend of the Port Authority: Gleason also repeated his called for the Port to be disbanded, saying, “It should get out of Dodge.”
The City Council has little control over the Port Authority, a bi-state agency created by Congress and controlled by two governors. When Gleason was asked how he would effect the changes he proposed, he said he would “shine a light on the project” to provide transparency, but he did not go into specifics. Gleason said he could not recall ever asking an official at the Port Authority or the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. about W.T.C. rebuilding or demolishing the former Deutsche Bank building at public meetings over the past six years.
Gleason has also made education a central issue of his campaign, criticizing Gerson for not solving the overcrowding problem during his eight years in office. Gleason repeated that criticism during the interview last week, saying Gerson’s efforts to bring new school seats to the neighborhood are too little too late.
If elected, Gleason committed to opening another elementary school to Downtown. But he was not familiar with the two K-8 schools already in the pipeline — the Spruce Street School and P.S./I.S. 276 in Battery Park City — which are opening with just kindergarten classes this fall.
Asked about the schools, Gleason said, “There’s one a little east of Tribeca and there’s another one in Battery Park City…. I understand one is a middle school.”
Gleason acknowledged that he didn’t know the specifics on many issues and had not formed an opinion on how to zone the schools.
“I’m out on the street,” he said. “I’m not in rooms having meetings…. A lot of people are expecting me to do the job before I’m elected, and you know what, that’s not the way it works.”
Gleason said his campaign was focused on bringing problems to light, and once he was elected he would focus on solutions.
“Once you get into the position, you either do the job or you don’t do the job,” Gleason said.
Returning to the topic of schools, Gleason added that to prevent overcrowding in the future, he would support a trigger law forcing all residential developers to set aside resources for infrastructure, including schools. Several sitting councilmembers, including Gerson, have raised the idea previously, but it would require a revision to the city charter or the Dept. of City Planning’s signoff.
Gleason also raised the issue of street vending, which has been a contentious one particularly in Soho, where many of the vendors sell goods protected under the First Amendment. Gleason said the government should not wade into the murky question of how to define art, but the government also has to prevent vendors from unsafely cluttering the sidewalks. After some prodding, Gleason said that if elected, he would limit the number of vendors per block.
Asked if he supported Gerson’s multi-pronged vendor legislation, which would do something similar, Gleason said he had not read it. But he criticized Gerson for not having passed any components of the legislation.
“What I don’t support is [Gerson’s] inability to effectuate change,” Gleason said.
Gerson said in a subsequent interview that the Police Dept. recently signed off on one of his vending bills, which would redefine how to measure sidewalk width, making the current rules easier to enforce.
Gleason appeared more familiar with bankrupt developer General Growth Properties’ now-defunct plan for South Street Seaport, which included a 500-foot tower and the move of the historic Tin Building. Gleason opposes G.G.P.’s plan but did not offer an alternative. He said an open 9/11 memorial would bring in tourists who would help small businesses across Lower Manhattan, including in the Seaport.
As a final question, Gleason was asked if he’d ever made a decision in his professional career as a lawyer, firefighter and police officer that he wished he could change, and what he had learned from it.
“No,” Gleason said. He then added, “We’ve all made mistakes…. When you work in the emergency service, things happen. It’s a dangerous job. Sometimes there’s things outside your control that happen.”