07/26/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Definition of National Embarrassment

Albany has certainly produced its share of political theater in the last fifteen months, but does it rise to the level of "national embarrassment" as some have suggested? If so, what term would we ascribe to the abysmal state of the Ground Zero rebuilding, now some seven and three quarter years after the September 11th attacks? Would the term "national disgrace" be, perhaps, a more suitable definition?

As a native of Lower Manhattan and as the assemblyman who represents the district within which Ground Zero is located, the failure of the rebuilding effort is as appalling as it is intensely personal.

I saw United Airlines flight 175 hit the South tower. I felt the ground tremble, inhaled the toxic smoke, and tried to address the needs of my terrified community. When I returned to my home, I saw - as many Americans saw - the news footage of those who celebrated our tremendous loss.

The absence of any sense of moral and national obligation to rebuild an American community where terrorists took nearly three thousand lives in an attack that has sickened countless citizens and ignited two wars that to date, have claimed five thousand American casualties, is incomprehensible to me.

Along with the obligation came an opportunity to demonstrate our resolve; to build a bigger and better World Trade Center in defiance of our enemies. Yet, there has been little willingness in the executive branches - both in Washington and in Albany - to take ownership of this historic urban rebuilding project.

This leadership vacuum at the top fed an endless series of delays, as did the well publicized but obviously unachievable construction deadlines, and the lack of a comprehensive rebuilding plan complete with a detailed construction schedule. The cost of this delay is incalculable.

I still believe and will always believe in New York, but I have grown weary of the unfulfilled commitments and the recalcitrance, and I am fed up with the current state of the World Trade Center project and the stalled negotiations.

That we are where we are at this point in time, this is the definition of "national embarrassment."

This is why I called for a summit meeting of the World Trade Center stakeholders, and I am gratified that Mayor Bloomberg supported my call and hosted this summit at Gracie Mansion.

Given this economic crisis, I can appreciate the Port Authority's financial concerns. We cannot expect the taxpayers to foot the full cost of all that we need to build.

Still, we are not building for today or for next year. We are building for an economy that is still years down the road.

Seven World Trade - the first building erected after September 11th when no one thought we could comeback from such devastation - is a perfect example of this point.

What does it say about New York if we fail to build the office space that we promised to build? Are we saying that we do not believe that Downtown can overcome this recession, as it has overcome economic crisis so many times in the past?

Is a diminished World Trade Center plan complete with "retail stubs" a fitting monument to those who have lost their lives and given their lives in this war on terrorism?

Surely, it must not be our statement to the world.

Again, I call for the construction of at least two towers in addition to the Freedom Tower, with the provision that all of the stakeholders must share in the risk.

With the towers and the Memorial, we must build an above-ground, architecturally significant Fulton Transit Center including abundant retail space, as well as a grand performing arts center.

As I told the audience at the May 8th breakfast sponsored by the Downtown Lower Manhattan Association (DLMA), we must remember the words of former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who along with his brother, David and the DLMA, led the effort to build the original World Trade Center.

"America is not just a power, it is a promise. It is not enough for our country to be extraordinary in might. It must be exemplary in meaning."

All New Yorkers and all Americans should be fed up with the embarrassment taking place at Ground Zero. It is, indeed, a national disgrace.