Downtown questions for President Bush
With President George W. Bush and his Republican friends and supporters coming to town next week for the Republican National Convention, we in Lower Manhattan the geographic community hardest hit by 9/11 have some questions for them.
The president and his administration have made some strides in helping Lower Manhattan in recent months but there continues to be significant shortfalls as well. Every cost estimate of the damage done to the city with the collapse of the Twin Towers is several times the $21 billion in federal aid to New York after 9/11.
The cost that of course can never be calculated is the loss of 2,800 innocent lives and for the loved ones of the victims, one of the questions Bush should answer is: Will he support fully the thoughtful recommendations of the unanimous, bipartisan 9/11 Commission or will he pay lip service to support while undermining the efforts to create a national intelligence director with real authority over the entire intelligence budget? And will the President start spending homeland security money in relation to the threat and not as if a person living in Wyoming is seven times more likely to suffer from a terrorist attack than a New Yorker?
The people of Lower Manhattan, who have been attacked by terrorists twice over the last 11 years, also deserve answers to those questions, as do all Americans.
Will House Speaker Dennis Hastert who mistakenly wrote New Yorkers made an unseemly scramble for money and other Congressional Republican leaders as well as Bush support much-needed additional money to help the city recover from the attack? Will they insure that all of the designated money makes it to New York?
We can hear the money-grubbing charge coming from miles away, but compare an additional $10 billion to help a casualty of war with the $180 billion farm aid boondoggle approved by Bush as well as Democrats and Republicans two years ago, or the $150 billion plus price tag for the Iraq war, not to mention once again the incalculable cost of lost lives.
Delegates who visit the site next week will see a hole in the ground with a temporary commuter train station and the faintest of signs of the first office tower being built. Developer Larry Silverstein, who has the leasing rights to the site, does not have enough money to rebuild the office buildings and even if he secures the $3.5 billion or so left of Liberty Bonds a post 9/11, federal tax-free program he will still not have enough.
The key to insure the site does not remain a hole is to create the demand for new offices. This includes improving transportation such as building a rail link from Lower Manhattan to J.F.K. Airport and the Long Island Rail Road. Thankfully, Bush voiced his support recently for transferring $2 billion of never-used Downtown tax relief to the link, but about $3 billion more will be needed.
Will you, Mr. President, support additional money to build the link? What about more federal assistance to make sure there is enough public support to meet all of the priorities such as building the $350 million W.T.C. memorial, the proposed cultural buildings, building amenities like a school, more parks and recreation space to stabilize the Downtown residential community?
The Environmental Protection Agency panel developing a new cleaning and testing program for the areas affected by 9/11 seems to be on the right track, but will your E.P.A. avoid the pitfalls of the first program by disclosing understandable information sooner and making it clearer? Will your E.P.A. officials warn residents and office workers in buildings where dangerous levels of lead and asbestos are found down the hall or in another building? Will you come clean with what the E.P.A.s admitted environmental mistakes were?
Will you maintain the housing voucher programs that protect Tribecas Independence Plaza North middle class tenants and many others from skyrocketing rents that would drive them from their homes?
We look forward to hearing the answers, Mr. President.