UPDATED JAN. 22, 2010
Mayor calls island trial move 'dumb'
By Josh Rogers
Mayor Bloomberg Thursday called moving the 9/11 terror trials to Governors Island “one of the dumber ideas” he’s ever heard, but the idea picked up steam yesterday anyway.
The mayor made the comment Jan. 21 at a Gracie Mansion morning meeting with about a dozen newspaper publishers including John W. Sutter, publisher of Downtown Express and other Community Media newspapers. The mayor cited the planned move of the New York Harbor High School this September as one of the reasons it was an unwise trial location. His comment was not immediately reported, and Thursday’s momentum probably proceeded without knowledge of his views.
Julie Menin, Community Board 1 chairperson, has been spearheading the effort to move the trial to Governors Island, and she also met with Bloomberg on Thursday. Menin said Bloomberg mentioned the Harbor High School to her as well, but she does not think that is a valid sticking point, because there are schools near the federal courthouses in Lower Manhattan, too.
Bloomberg also said that the trials in Lower Manhattan would bring more hardship to the Park Row area and that he has asked Police Commissioner Ray Kelly repeatedly about the feasibility of reopening the street. Kelly has kept the street closed to protect One Police Plaza. The federal courthouse and detention center where the 9/11 terror suspects will be held and tried are across the street from police headquarters.
There may have been a change of heart about the island later in the day. Kelly said he’s “certainly open to that suggestion” of moving the trial to Governors Island, according to NY1.com, but later said the feds were resisting a move since it would require building a jail. The Associated Press reported that Kelly has ordered an assessment of the feasibility of the island to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the admitted 9/11 mastermind, and some of his accused accomplices.
Both the mayor and Kelly have emphasized the high costs of holding the trial Downtown, putting the first year security measures at $250 million.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Councilmember Margaret Chin of Lower Manhattan and Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. released a statement Thurs., Jan. 21 saying the trials should not be held Downtown and that the island should be studied as an option.
On Friday, there was a quick reaction to the mayor’s comment from Downtown legislators. Chin, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Sen. Daniel Squadron released a joint statement condemning the mayor’s quote.
“We were extremely disappointed by Mayor Bloomberg’s callous dismissal yesterday of a potential alternative location for the upcoming trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. His comments in today’s Downtown Express …demonstrates a lack of sensitivity and understanding for the significant toll the trial may exact on the residents and small businesses of Lower Manhattan,” the statement read in part. “Given that Commissioner Kelly publicly stated that the possibility of holding the trial on Governors Island was an option meriting consideration on the same day that the Mayor made his statement, we question on what basis the Mayor dismissed Community Board 1’s recommendation….
“While we recognize that the 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that the trial be held in the state and district where the crime occurred — which means the Southern District of New York — we urge Attorney General Eric Holder and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to assess the feasibility of locating the trials on Governors Island or other alternative sites that would ease the burden on our already overburdened Lower Manhattan neighborhoods.”
C.B. 1’s Executive Committee endorsed the trial move at a meeting Wednesday night and the full board will take up the issue Tuesday.
Alan Gerson, who left his City Council seat Jan. 1, may have been the first to give public voice to the idea at community meeting in early December. Back then, Menin was arguing that the trial should be held in the federal courts of Lower Manhattan, at the scene of the crime.
Menin said Friday that she changed her mind after finding out that security for a Lower Manhattan trial would cost at least $200 million a year, which she said is too much to spend in a recession and indicates that the location may not be safe. She was also concerned after homeland security flaws were revealed in the attempted Christmas attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253.
“Governors Island is a reasonable alternative solution to the federal courthouse at 500 Pearl St. which is situated in the middle of the fourth largest commercial business district in the country and a dense residential neighborhood,” Menin said Wednesday night, prior to Bloomberg’s comment.
After hearing Bloomberg’s doubts, Menin said Friday that she at least wants the city to study the idea before rejecting it.
“To foreclose consideration of it without a proper feasibility study is a mistake,” Menin said.
She acknowledged that Governors Island could wind up being more expensive than a Lower Manhattan trial, and said in that case she would support moving it somewhere else. Menin suggested military sites elsewhere in the state, which would already have built-in security infrastructure, and could more easily hold a federal trial.
Menin has also floated the Governors Island idea to federal officials and said she has received “some positive calls.”
“But they’re not going to be receptive if the city says it’s not viable,” Menin added, calling it a “chicken-and-egg” problem. “Of course it’s a federal decision but if the mayor is saying he doesn’t want it there, they’re not going to pursue it.”
Jan Lee, a resident of Mott St., said Wednesday night that he supported the Governors Island move because “the different layers of security for the trial would do us in.”
With reporting by Albert Amateau and Julie Shapiro