Volume 17 • Issue 29 | Dec. 10 -16, 2004


Talking Point


Downtown Express file photo by Elisabeth Robert

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge testifying in May before the 9/11 Commission.

Tom Ridge won’t be missed Downtown

By Jane Flanagan

Tom Ridge, Homeland Security secretary, resigned last week and I can’t say I’m sorry. Being a parent in the post- 9/11 world is not easy and Ridge made it harder. Certainly for parents in Lower Manhattan.

If you recall, last August, Ridge went on television to warn us about terrorist plans to blow up the New York Stock Exchange (among other buildings). Like many people in this community, I was here on Sept. 11 — three blocks away from the World Trade Center with my then 3-year-old son. In the years since, I have worked to block out those memories.

But the August warnings brought them all back. So did the ensuing police roadblocks, military helicopters and the machine-gun outfitted Coast Guard boats patrolling the Hudson.

At the time, I found these warnings both terrifying and confusing. On Monday of that week, the daily papers reported that Ridge’s alert was based on new “alarming” intelligence. But on Tuesday, the headlines said the information was three years old. By Wednesday, Bush officials were claiming some of the intelligence was new.

It took me forever to leave the house that week. Every morning I spent two hours pouring over the newspaper trying to figure out for myself whether it was safe to leave my child at home. The information coming from Washington was just too perplexing. I felt compelled to read every article to glean clues as to what was really going on.

Then last week, I stumbled onto an astounding piece of news. An on-line Newsweek article reported that none of last summer’s intelligence indicated a threat to New York, or even the U.S. I quote reporters Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball:

“The latest analysis of evidence that led to last summer’s Code Orange alert suggests that Al Qaeda operatives were plotting a ‘big bomb’ attack against a major landmark in Britain – but had no active plans for strikes in the United States, U.S. intelligence sources tell Newsweek.”

What?

If you recall, Ridge’s Aug. 1 announcement was three days after the Democratic convention. Back then some suggested that the terror threat was a political ploy to suppress Kerry’s “bounce” in the polls. At the time, I thought this was a cynical idea to say the least. But now, well, I suppose living in Lower Manhattan post 9/11 has turned me into a cynic.

Newsweek also quoted Rand Beers, Kerry’s chief foreign policy advisor during the campaign. He said there was actually a legitimate reason not to go public with the terror alert last August. That’s because it seriously affected ongoing investigations in Pakistan as well as Great Britain, the real target.

Yes, it’s quite a time to be living in New York. For all the flag waving at Madison Square Garden last summer, I, for one, don’t feel those who gathered there had my best interests at heart. While Ridge was busy scaring the hell out of me, Washington was reducing the funds to keep me safe.

To figure out by just how much, I called up Congressmember Carolyn Maloney’s office. It seems homeland security funds have become so much political pork and with each passing year, more and more low-risk states and cities are grabbing a piece of it. For instance, in fiscal year 2004, the state of Wyoming got $38.61 per person in homeland security funds compared to New York State, which got $5.47. Along with state funding, there are special grants for “high threat” cities. New York, which everyone agrees is most at risk, has seen its share dwindle with each passing year. In F.Y. 2004, the city’s grant was cut by 69%.

This coming year, with Ridge on the way out and Bernard Kerik expected in, New York City will get more in high threat funds. But New Yorkers, who are on everyone’s target list, are still way behind the Westerners. In F.Y. 2005, Wyoming will get $28.22 per person, while New York will get $15.72.

As for all of the city’s police roadblocks, etc. last August, New York has not been reimbursed for any of it, according to Maloney’s spokesperson, Afshin Mohamadi.

He’s trying to find out just how much money this is. Judging from what I saw, the price tag will be huge. And that means there will be less money to spend on police protection in New York in the future. Like I said, Ridge and company have made post-9/11 parenting in Lower Manhattan much harder.


Jane@DowntownExpress.com



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