Seven years ago this week, I stood on the pile of burning rubble at the south end of Manhattan with thousands of other Americans who in our nation's defining hour did what we could to make a difference. Firefighters, doctors, soldiers, cops, steelworkers, and nurses--we all came together to serve our country in a time of exceptional need. I will never forget the demonstrations of courage and the expressions of sorrow, the sight of the bodies and the smell of the smoke. And I will never forget the bold promises of our leaders, uttered loudly before the smoke even cleared.
They stood on the pile with bullhorns, they issued press releases, and spoke at benefit concerts. We heard politicians from every corner of America swear: "Never Again! We'll make them pay! The terrorists won't win! We will rebuild!"
Seven years later, that hasn't happened. And we should all be embarrassed as a nation for one simple reason more than all the others--there is still a mammoth, gaping hole at Ground Zero.
Bureaucratic gridlock, partisan bickering, old-fashioned greed and failed leadership have all been blended together perfectly in one big pot to create a colossal, historic stew of inaction. And that stew has given the terrorists a score that not only have we failed to avenge, but we have failed to fully recover from. The wounds of 9/11 are not healed, the statement has not been made, and the country--especially the President and the two men running for that office--seem to have forgotten about the recovery of Ground Zero altogether.
Now this week, of course, we'll get the standard, annual photo ops, bold promises and tough talk. Rudy Giuliani will be celebrated, and plastered on every TV network in America. Emotional remembrance videos will run on a loop all week long. Politicians will manipulate the tragedy into a gotcha talking point to bolster their position on one issue or another. And more promises will be made. But the fact will remain--there is no monument, there is no building, and there is no attention. No one in Washington seems to give a second thought to the south end of Manhattan anymore. Except when it's politically convenient for them.
New York is the city I love most in the world. I lost friends on 9/11. I pulled bodies from the rubble there. I, along with almost two million other troops, were sent to war because of what happened there. And I am sick and tired of walking and driving by it and seeing a stalled construction site.
So today, I call on Senators Obama and McCain to make a promise they will keep. Pledge to all those that died, all those that served, and all those that remember, that Ground Zero will be re-built by the end of your first term. Blow through the logjam, bring the divided interests together, craft a plan, flex some muscle, and start moving forward briskly. If you want to unite the country as President, this is a perfect place to start. If we can put a man on the moon, create the internet, and fight two wars simultaneously, I am sure that America can mobilize all its political will, ingenuity and resources to rebuild one of the most important pieces of real estate in the world. And it can start with new leadership under your watch. You can't shake up Washington, if you can't even rebuild Ground Zero.
On September 11, 2001, millions of young Americans like me promised to take a bullet for this country. Seven years later, the least our presidential candidates can do is make a promise to rebuild a few sacred acres of it.