Volume 16 • Issue 53 | May 28 - June 3, 2004


Ashcroft’s disturbing warnings

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft warned on Wednesday that Al Qaeda “was almost ready to attack the United States” again, causing understandable unease among many in Lower Manhattan, who have been hit before, and across the nation. Others questioned the political motivations of Ashcroft, one of the Bush administration’s most partisan and ideological – and perhaps most dangerous — officials.

Why did politics enter into the thinking? Were people being overly cynical? We will never know what was in Ashcroft’s mind, but the political explanation is disturbingly plausible.

The same day Ashcroft issued his warning that an attack seemed imminent, Tom Ridge, Bush’s man at the Dept. of Homeland Security, was telling Americans to go about their normal business. An unnamed Bush intelligence official told The New York Times: “There’s no new intelligence and a lot of this has been out there already.” We’ve all known for months that the Republican Convention in New York and the Democratic Convention in Boston are potential terrorist targets. The Washington D.C. police chief was quoted in the Washington Post saying he has received no new threat warnings.

Add that to the mounting credibility problems of Bush. Forget what his enemies say about the president, just listen to his friends and deputies. His secretary of state said that the case for the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was based on faulty intelligence and the secretary was not sure if he would have recommended war with the benefit of hindsight. The president’s former Treasury secretary and anti-terrorism czar say Bush was obsessed with going to war with Iraq before 9/11 and the anti-terrorism official, Richard Clarke, says this obsession diverted attention away from the real enemy, Al Qaeda. The president’s former Mideast envoy, who once prepared Iraq war contingency plans, says the Pentagon had a tragically unrealistic plan for the war’s aftermath.

The fact that the case for political motives explaining the attorney general’s statements can even be made with many Americans believing it, is a scary thought. The attorney general must be able to supervise the F.B.I., do all that he or she can to protect the nation, and issue warnings based on usefulness to the public and not how it will bolster the president in an election year. There’s little evidence that Ashcroft has had much success doing his job.

South Ferry fairy tales

In recent weeks, we’ve read several articles in various publications about the proposed renovation of the South Ferry subway station and how everyone in the world is for it except for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is blocking it for specious reasons and using his typical Albany obstructionist tactics. The stories do make for interesting reading because they ignore important facts.

While it is true that Silver is using his effective veto power on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Capital Review Board to holdup approval, it is not true that he is standing alone. Community Board 1, which represents Downtown residents, has opposed using over $400 million of federal money intended to help Lower Manhattan rebuild from 9/11. Gov. George Pataki, while announcing his support for the project last year, emphasized how quickly Staten Island commuters would be able to get to Midtown – helping Downtown how, governor? The Downtown Alliance, which represents Wall St. area property owners, like C.B. 1 has opposed the project because of the more pressing transportation needs such as finding the money to build a link from J.F.K. Airport and the Long Island Rail Road to Downtown. The leader of the Partnership for New York City, Kathryn Wylde, has said the South Ferry project will not lead to much economic development and must be balanced against the costs and benefits of other transportation priorities.

Silver’s critics have picked out his objection based on possibly disrupting a temporary 9/11 memorial and ignored his more substantive arguments about funding priorities and the long-term effects to Battery Park.

We do recognize the safety problems of the tiny and crowded South Ferry station, but the M.T.A. might find a cheaper way to solve this problem if it was spending its own capital money, rather than siphoning off federal Lower Manhattan rebuilding money that could be put to better use. Expanding the station so trains can turnaround a little bit quicker appears to give you a small pop for the buck. South Ferry’s 1 and 9 lines are locals that are only a few minutes from express trains. Is speeding them up worth $400 million or more?

We think not and we commend Speaker Silver for fighting the good fight.

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