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Thomas S. Johnson

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Completing Important Construction

Posted: 07/18/2012 3:35 pm

Money. Power. Control.  These are what stand between us and completing important construction at the site where 2,753 people, including my son Scott, were murdered on 9/11. More than 3.5 million people worldwide have visited the National September 11 Memorial since September.

They have run their fingers over bronze plaques bearing names of those killed on 9/11 -- some in awe, others in tears. Some come with paper and pencils to make engravings from the names carved out of the bronze to take home with them. They marvel at the waterfalls filling the voids where the towers once stood. But when they try to open the doors to the museum that tells the history of what happened here, they can't.

While the memorial is open to the public, the museum that will tell the story of that day of terror, the heroism that arose from it, and the ongoing implications of the attacks will remain closed past what was to be its September 2012 opening date. All because the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is contractually obligated to build the museum for the non-profit National September 11 Memorial & Museum Foundation, stopped construction in a move of pure political gamesmanship. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey control the Port Authority, and they have the power to direct them to live up to their agreements -- but after nine months of stalled construction the governors have not stepped in.

The Port Authority's first purported reason for stopping construction was a money dispute with the non-profit. That in itself was preposterous given the Port Authority's history, distinguished by gross mismanagement and mammoth cost overruns. Halting construction work on the World Trade Center site because of a financial dispute is unheard of. Why on this project and none of the others? They are currently billions over budget on their new PATH train station and One World Trade Center -- but construction there continues. And that aside, there is a legal agreement governing the memorial and museum construction that obligates the Port Authority to contribute funds. The foundation has lived up to every one of its commitments in that agreement, and it's the Port Authority's turn to live up to theirs.

A few months ago, people on every side of this dispute said the cost issues were resolved. Yet somehow the sacred heart of the World Trade Center is still at a standstill. Suddenly the Port Authority and the two governors began insisting they are concerned that the foundation that has been dedicated to creating the memorial and museum for years -- that has met and exceeded every fundraising target -- will not be able to treat this site with the "respect and care" it deserves. They have proposed that a politically appointed panel be created to oversee the work of the foundation's board of directors, and they are refusing to move construction forward until such a panel is established. Reading between the lines, many have interpreted this as a pure power play: The governors are simply not happy that Mayor Bloomberg serves as the chair of this private, non-profit institution. They likely are unhappy that, as chair, he controls the 9/11 anniversary ceremonies, which he has since the very first anniversary of the attacks kept entirely free of political speeches.

As a board member of the foundation and the father of a son who lost his life on the site of the memorial, I take deep personal offense to the accusation that we are not operating this memorial or creating this museum with "respect and care." And there are 48 other intensely committed citizens on the board. Among our membership are 11 family members who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks and a slew of the world's leading corporate citizens. All of us are committed to achieving the mission to respect this place made sacred through tragic loss. All of us are devoted to educating future generations about the largest foreign attack ever perpetrated on American soil and the heroism we saw in response.

This is one of the most successful non-profits in this country. The staff is firmly dedicated to this memorial and museum, and has worked with thousands upon thousands of 9/11 stakeholders through the past several years to create a moving memorial and museum free from political influence. Because I trust this organization so strongly, my own family donated $1 million to the foundation in memory of our son. We have created a strong and sustainable support system that can ensure a fitting memorial and museum for generations to come. But by not restarting Museum construction, the governors are strangling the very institution they claim to care about.

All of this because the governors don't like the fact that Mayor Bloomberg happens to be the chair of this private non-profit institution -- and who as a private citizen who has given $15 million of his own money to help ensure this historic and sacred project gets built and open to the world as soon as possible. Holding up the construction of the museum in a bid for more control is a stunning example of exactly why injecting politics into the National September 11 Memorial & Museum would be a travesty.

Governors, please put aside petty politics and restart construction of the museum. We need to open those doors to the world.

 
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