Actually, it was a week of slam dunks, following a week where the Port Authority was portrayed as the heavy in the dispute that has set back the opening of the 9/11 Museum. It began with Governor Cuomo bluntly acknowledging that “a tremendous amount of money” has been “wasted” in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site — and that “the toll-payer is not an endless, bottomless well for government to dip into to cure their incompetence.”
The Governor was addressing the stalemate with the 9/11 Memorial Foundation, headed by Mayor Bloomberg. Nevertheless, by the following day, Gov. Cuomo’s choice to head the Port Authority, Executive Director Pat Foye made sure to go on the record saying, “No bridge and tunnel tolls are allocated to the site. Funding for the World Trade Center comes from third-party sources including federal grants and insurance proceeds and Port Authority resources.”
Cuomo’s remarks were viewed as a “breath of fresh air” but they bolstered the case that the AAA is bringing against the Port Authority, challenging last summer’s exorbitant toll hikes. The PA’s position is that none of the toll hikes are going to the WTC because the Interstate Transportation Network (ITN) operates at a deficit. But everyone understands that the Port Authority would be in a position to divert other resources to the ITN, as they historically have done, if it were not pouring billions of dollars into the site. Whether the PA’s funny numbers will work in the District Court lawsuit is being determined in the discovery process that has been going forward. But, State Sen. Diane Savino (D-North Shore/Brooklyn) suggested that Cuomo’s comments “could give a court the ammunition it needs to overturn these toll hikes.”
Port Authority officials can insist until they are blue in the face that no toll money is going to build the World Trade Center, but if the PA were not carrying the load for Larry Silverstein and being drained by the Memorial there would be no toll controversy today. Since the Port Authority would be in a full-bore crisis of confidence if the tolls are rolled back, the Museum stand-off is one more indication of how distressed the project really is. But the day after the Associated Press was quoting both sides as saying that they are “close to an agreement to resume construction” the language suggests otherwise. The AP reported that Mayor Bloomberg offered no specifics on a completion date or on the amount of money still in question, but quoted him as saying, “As long as we’re going in the right direction and doing it together, this memorial and museum is going to get done.”
The piece then went on to apply the not-so-subtle pressure of the week before by adding that “family members of those killed in the 2001 attacks have been upset over the delays at the ground zero museum.” But the next day, the AP reported that “9/11 Parents and Families of Firefighters and WTC Victims” commended the governor Wednesday for saying “a tremendous amount of money” has been “wasted” at the site. Their full press release reads as follows:
“9/11 Parents and Families of Firefighters and WTC Victims commends Governor Andrew Cuomo for the strong stand he has taken re the out of control spending at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum (New York Daily News, 6/4/12.) As WTC family members, we as well as the public, have been held hostage by the private 9/11 Memorial and Museum’s irresponsibility, unaccountability and uncontrolled spending of public dollars.
“Gov. Cuomo has stated that ‘a tremendous amount of money’ has been ‘wasted’ in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site. We are in total agreement. The vast majority of WTC family members — including Parents & Families of Firefighters — never asked for the world’s most expensive memorial and museum, now estimated at a staggering $1.3 billion. Families would have been thankful for a simple, dignified, aboveground monument to the lives and deaths of 9/11 Victims. Our families had no role in the selection of this fiscally irresponsible project and take no responsibility for it.
“We have long held that the Port Authority of New and New Jersey — the builders of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum — is a dysfunctional organization. The Port Authority should not hand over any additional funding to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum operators. We agree with the Governor’s statement that: ‘the toll-payer is not an endless, bottomless well for government to dip into to cure their incompetence.’
“We believe that asking commuters to pony up even more toll money to finance this memorial-industrial complex is unacceptable. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum managers decided that money was no object from day one. They now have the “world class” distinction they so desired: the world’s most expensive memorial-museum to build and operate. They do not deserve a bailout from the public taxpayers. We thank Gov. Cuomo for his outstanding leadership in this most important issue.”
That is an important statement, but only a few sentences were repeated in the AP report. Another disturbing fact was the reference to “some” family members. Why do they always seem to quote “some” family members, when the position is challenging the official agenda, but “9/11 family members” when they are supporting the status quo?
Chief Riches and the others who signed the statement are dedicated spokespeople who may arguably be representative of the vast majority of family members on most issues, if they were ever put in touch with each other. But the Mayor and the Museum have done their best to keep them apart, citing privacy issues, when control issues is more like it.
This week’s news underscores how improper last Sunday’s Daily News editorial was. The public interest is well-served by the Governors’ resistance to being soaked by the 9/11 Memorial/Museum. Memorial officials have taken the public’s support for a fitting memorial to be a blank check. The family members who spoke out performed a public service.
Republicans may be right when they say that the New Jersey Assembly is out to embarrass the Governor over his handling of the notorious toll hikes, but the Port Authority has been begging for a correction and it seems likely that it is going to get one. The extensive list of documents that the Assembly’s Transportation Committee requested in a four-page letter to the executive Director of the Port Authority includes emails and minutes of closed-door executive session meetings.
Chairman John Wisniewski said that it shouldn’t take more than 30 days to collect and transmit the records. “They could do it in a week.” But if the documents are not received within thirty days, they will be subpoenaed. That’s a reverberating slam dunk.
Could the whole problem be that officials have confused the word “oversight” for “overlook?” That would explain, among other signs of insanity, how the Museum (pictured within) that looks like it is tipping over was actually designed to look like that. They should take a poll of how many visitors to the site get vertigo when looking at it.
The corollary question is “just how crazy is it that the 9/11 Memorial and Museum will cost more (currently $1.3 billion) than New York’s tallest new building” — the one that will have a roof-height almost 30 feet higher than the Freedom Tower? (Another good question is how crazy is it that the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. cost $200 million…?)
It may not be a full-fledged slam dunk, but the fact that a fourth week has come and gone since the Port Authority announced that they had found an interim home for The Sphere and would announce details the following week is a litmus stick. Officials of the pre-toll hikes Port Authority would never embarrass themselves this way.