Volume 17 • Issue 21 | October 15 - 21, 2004


Derailing Downtown plans in Washington

Lower Manhattan suffered a blow this week when House Republicans refused to allow a $2 billion transfer of unused tax benefits targeted for Downtown to a rail link to J.F.K. Airport and the Long Island Rail Road. Making law in Washington is often compared to making sausage and there may very well be another opportunity to approve this much-needed transfer sometime in the next few months. It does feel like Congress’ era of good feeling toward Lower Manhattan is over.

There is little doubt in our minds that this rail link to Downtown would be an economic stimulus that will secure Downtown’s future by supporting office development, better retail and new jobs at all income levels.

Lower Manhattan took the brunt of the 2001 attack because it is the financial capital of the world and if Americans allow the Wall Street area to lose that designation, it will be an unmistakable victory for Al Qaeda.

That’s why President Bush and Congress approved $21 billion after the attack. At least $2 billion of that aid went to never-used and poorly designed tax breaks, and should be transferred to the rail link. This is not new money, and it should not be difficult to approve this transfer.

Gov. George Pataki announced several months ago that President Bush supported the transfer and the Congressional setback is a clear black eye for the governor, who spends a great amount of time these days campaigning around the country for President Bush’s reelection. It’s beginning to look more and more like Pataki is more interested in securing his own political future rather than New York’s. What has his loyal partisanship gotten us anyway?

Bush, who seems to say “September 11th” every few sentences, has now permitted Republicans in the House to hinder supporting a critical project in the revitalization of Lower Manhattan. Could no administration official have called a House leader on the conference committee and said: “The president said he wants this, don’t make him look bad”? The vote clearly raises the question of the strength of the president’s commitment to the transfer in the first place.

In addition to Bush and Pataki, the rail link has the support of other Republicans such as House Speaker Dennis Hastert (at least he said so), Mayor Bloomberg, as well as Democrats such as New York’s senators, Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, who should be commended for convincing their colleagues to add the transfer to the conference bill; Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and most other local business and political leaders. Community Board 1 also supports the rail link.

Some who oppose the rail link in New York do so because they want to stop the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. from using the shrinking pot of community development money to fund the link. We and others have questioned the wisdom of using this fund of about $860 million in community development money to pay for only a tiny piece of the project when there are also other priorities Downtown. There is about $1 billion set aside to pay for the $6 billion link, primarily from the Port Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. If the $2 billion transfer is approved it should be enough to get started.

More money will be needed for that as well as for other needs to rebuild Lower Manhattan. We sure hope we haven’t lost our friends in Washington, but last week’s vote may well signal a change that federal priorities have shifted away from helping Lower Manhattan recover from 9/11.

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