2011 Bulletins | July through December
12/16/11 — “A Golden Opportunity…” Last week we were mentioned in a couple of New Jersey papers (including the state’s largest, the Star-Ledger) quoting a remark that Margaret Donovan made in a statement to the PA Commissioners: “‘Your lack of transparency is the root of all your troubles,’ Donovan told board members.”
Unfortunately, the article characterized our organization as: “a group that seeks to rebuild the original World Trade Center” — and that is not at all what we seek. What we are dedicated to is a World Trade Center that honors the will of the people and does not reward those who show contempt for that will.
Nothing but misinformation and manipulation stands between the people and new, state-of-the-art Twin Towers regaining their signature place in what was the world’s greatest skyline. If that were not what most Americans want to see, we wouldn’t spend an hour of our lives trying to resurrect bygone buildings.
People ask what we are really fighting for at this point — as if something has changed. We are fighting for what we have always been fighting for — respect for the will of the people. What could possible be more important than that? If officials ever explained why what they are doing instead matters more, we haven’t heard it.
We are fighting for straight answers to straight questions, because we are revolted at the thought of those who hijacked Ground Zero getting away with it — just because people are too busy to get to the truth of what happened to our towers.
An “Ask Yahoo” question out of Australia asked New Yorkers last week what they really thought of the Twin Towers and how the Freedom Tower compares. The answer that was chosen as “Best Answer” was a knock-out:
The new image on our homepage is symbolic, not photographic. Double-click on it for the full impact. It is already technically out-of-date because it doesn’t include the new Frank Gehry tower on Spruce Street — and because the Freedom Tower has reached 90 stories. But so what? It is still a good 30 stories below new Twin Towers. And anything could happen in the next few months.
If the two Governors want to straighten out the mess at Ground Zero there is no more direct or rewarding way for them to do that than to examine the compelling case for capping the Freedom Tower — a tower built on lies — and raising beautiful, better-late-than-never Twin Towers beside it.
And if they make them golden, no one will ever confuse them with the originals — as if 9/11 never happened — but will see them as a tribute to the fallen and a monument for the future.
We can’t wave a wand and make it happen — but we can make sure that Governor Cuomo and Governor Christie are aware of why it is the best move they could ever make…
12/14/11 — “The Law of the Land…” Those who may be gloomy about the prospects of seeing the Twin Towers rise again at the World Trade Center should understand one thing — a capped Freedom Tower may be an obvious option, but if feasibility alone were the standard, officials COULD actually tear down both of the towers on the site, rip out the foundations for towers two and three, do all of the remedial transition work, build stunning new Twin Towers in place of towers two, three, and four, and still finish sooner and realize a far greater Return on Investment — the public’s investment – than they would get by continuing on the course they’re on!
People shouldn’t be gullible about how much rosy publicity money can buy — a lot – but that doesn’t make a word of it true. The current project is a dud that will never produce a fraction of the revenue or generate a fraction of the excitement of a true WTC revival. But those who think that new Twin Towers are a sure thing are also wrong and it would be dishonest to pretend otherwise.
This is a war — a series of battles that are fought until one side wins and one side loses. With 1 WTC at 90 storeys and 4 WTC over 50 storeys, a victory could hardly seem more improbable. But we would not think of conceding defeat when there are so many more problems at the site than most people realize and we can see a real path to victory.
If it will come to that is anybody’s guess, but those who are so sure it won’t are also speculating — they just don’t know it — because humility is not their strong suit. Six months ago they didn’t expect that a toll hike controversy would rock the Port Authority. And one month ago they would have laughed at the thought that the Federal judge who is deciding the AAA lawsuit challenging the toll hikes would allow the Twin Towers Alliance to file an amicus curiae brief. But he did — and we did.
Lording it over the public is a bad miscalculation. Nothing about this fight is easy but we do have what’s right on our side, as it becomes clearer all the time that what has been done only succeeded by keeping the public in the dark. That’s one hell of an indictment. To use the public’s money to defeat the public’s will over such a profoundly public matter is as corrupt as it gets.
That is why we have been focusing for two years on the contracts — and we have learned a lot in the process. The contracts belong by law in the public domain and the PA hasn’t resisted releasing them for all this time just for the heck of it. If they were proud of what they contain or thought that the public would understand their actions there obviously would be no need for stonewalling.
We aren’t going to comment further on the contracts or either of the court challenges that are currently underway; we look forward to doing so as soon as it would be prudent. But what we would like to point out is that the contracts are the foundation of the project — and what happens to a building that has a cracked foundation? The higher it goes the more unstable it becomes.
12/13/11 — “Stay Tuned…” We have been missing in action a lot lately because of the tremendous activity required to keep up with what’s going on. We will be updating the site and sharing a lot of information in the days and weeks ahead, so check back.
11/20/11 — “The Worm Turns…” A column posted on the CBS New York website shows which way the wind is blowing and it seems that Chris Ward should start ducking. Actually, weaving and ducking would be best.
11/20/11 — “La-La Land…” The Freedom Tower has often been called the Fraudem Tower by those who see through the hype about the “iconic” tower (in other words, most people.) PR agents cannot make an icon — people do — unless it is an icon of how dishonest some people can be. But the image below does a great job of explaining why people instinctively reject the spin.
The Sears (Willis) Tower in Chicago displaced the Twin Towers as the world’s tallest building in 1973 — a title it held until it was surpassed by the Petronas Towers in 1998. But now, the Freedom Tower, with a roof-height that is identical to the Tower One of the Twin Towers and virtually the same as both of them — 417 meters (1368 feet) — claims it is going to be the taller than the tower that surpassed their record and has a roof-height of 451 meters — almost a hundred feet higher at 1450 feet. Isn’t that a perfect symbol for how phony this project is?
Anyone whoever looked at the Twin Towers knows that what registers on the eye is roof-height. That is why the tower with the antenna was considered a twin of the tower without. Don’t those who parrot the “tallest building in North America” hokum know how ridiculous they sound?
11/18/11 — “It’s Time to Start Rowing…” We haven’t had much time for bulletins lately, but even if we had, it would just sound like more of the same — which would be misleading, because there is a lot of substance happening. But, we cannot give supporters a blow-by-blow of our activities — first, because we have more to do than we have hours to do it. Second, because everyone who visits the site is not a friend, and third, because it would give supporters a false sense of accomplishment.
We appreciate the good will and good wishes of those who support this effort, but it would be great if supporters were focussed on ways to make a difference, because nothing takes the place of action. No one wants to spend their time doing what they think amounts to just a drop in the bucket. But every viral campaign started as a drop in the bucket. As basketball legend Wayne Gretsky pointed out: “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”
Those who may wonder if we at the TTA are doing enough should first ask themselves and each other what it is they have done, year in and year out, to advance the cause of new Twin Towers. If supporters on Facebook posted a running total next to their names of the people they had personally contacted who then signed the petition, would the loudest critics have the highest totals?
What good is talk about protests, without even being able to mobilize people to sign a petition? Who is going to travel to a demonstration if they can’t be bothered to leave their name and comment online? People think it is a lost cause, for obvious reasons.
But they might be more interested in signing, if they understood that adding one’s name and comment to the petition is not saying that they think new Twin Towers will be built – because no one can say for sure one way or the other – but that new Twin Towers should be built, because that is something most Americans have always agreed on and no official has ever explained why they connived to do something else.
One thing is certain: they still can be built — and signing the petition is a good way to register one’s objection to officials who ran for office to be representatives but function as masters. The self-fulfilling prophecy that it is “too late” has distorted the project for years and it is no truer now than it was in 2005 or 2008 – in fact it is even less true today. But that is for another bulletin…
10/23/11 — “Friends of the Court…” The late Daniel J. Boorstin — a scholar, writer, law professor, and Librarian of Congress — once said that the greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. People who think that the current project at Ground Zero is inevitable are assuming there are no better options, which has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but they could not be more wrong.
Their assumption is the result of aggressive PR campaigns by Larry Silverstein, the Port Authority, and others to make it look as if the only choice is between their Cubic Zirconia World Trade Center or chaos and disappointment. But if the public were given the choice of a synthetic diamond or the real thing, they would choose the real diamond every time. And that is what makes the current project a swindle: It is the result of an official lie that has effectively defrauded the public in every way.
If the only reason for building the current project is that it is inevitable, then it is illegitimate. If there were no better option, we would find one. But since a more affordable option that would satisfy the will of the people has been there all along and was buried by public officials who took an oath to serve the public (not themselves and their cronies) then “illegitimate” is putting it mildly. It was not lawful to deceive the public into paying for the project by making it seem inevitable and legitimate when it was and is neither.
By what means was it decided to exclude from consideration the most obvious, popular, strategic, and affordable option for rebuilding the WTC? No one has ever tried to explain that — because they can’t. In a democracy, it should have ended there. If officials can’t justify or defend their actions, they are not authorized to act. If something is not authorized, then it doesn’t matter how far the scam is taken, it can never be anything but a scam.
Larry Silverstein signed a contract in which he agreed to rebuild the Twin Towers if they were ever “damaged or destroyed” — according to the existing plans — “to the extent feasible.” If anyone wanted to claim that it wasn’t feasible, a feasibility study would have had to have been done that persuasively explained why it would not be feasible. That study doesn’t exist. Silverstein had no “out” — unless he wanted to be relieved of the entire commitment. So from the beginning, it was the Port Authority Commissioners’ fiduciary responsibility to hold him to his contractual obligations.
We can only guess at their reasons for not doing that, because all their decisions were made in secret. That’s where Port Authority went off the rails, because they were required by their own by-laws and the Open Government laws of New York and New Jersey to deliberate in public sessions, except under very limited circumstances where disclosure would “clearly endanger the public interest.”
Even when they have sound reasons to assert that exception — which, according to the New York State Committee on Open Government, refers to the possibility of short-term, commercial, drawbacks — once negotiations are completed full disclosure is due. But they never comply. They release summaries of action taken, but never minutes that reveal the hidden discussions.That leaves the public with no way to discover whether the standard has been correctly applied, which invites abuse.
The only reason the public is now paying a steep price through the confiscatory tolls at the Hudson River crossings — not only through the heavy burden on individual commuters, but in the increase that has to be factored into all the products trucked into the City and points east and north to cover the extortionate increase — is that virtually every significant decision about the future of the site is discussed in bogus executive sessions, where there is no public oversight.
Director Ward was shown the door because, as both administrations have implied, his loyalty to his patron, Mayor Bloomberg, is an obvious conflict of interest. Even Ward’s appointment by Governor Paterson seems to have been an effort to curry favor with the Mayor, whose fingerprints are all over Ground Zero, though he and his sycophants like to claim otherwise.
The very fact that a State Assemblyman sent a 67-page report to the Department of Investigation in September, 2007, asking the Commissioner of the DOI to look into Chris Ward’s methods in handling the second-largest construction site in the state, the Van Cortlandt Water Filtration Plant, as the head of the City’s Department of Environmental Protection, made him an unsuitable choice for such a critical position. Now the original costs have tripled, while the request for an investigation was quashed. Sound familiar?
But even though Paterson is gone and now Ward is too, the chickens are still heading home to roost. The AAA clubs of New York and New Jersey are challenging the legality of the recent toll hikes at the Hudson River crossings in Federal Court. And we intend to connect these dots as a Friend of the Court, because the misconduct and lack of accountability at Ground Zero is the only reason that the Port Authority is facing insolvency — which makes it their problem, not the public’s.
Numerous editorials and op-eds have suggested that it is time to break the Port Authority up. The public would never stand for a “Too Big To Fail” scenario at the WTC — especially when it is discovered that Silverstein is a virtual squatter on the site and that we could have had a genuine recovery years ago that would have set the whole country — and a good part of the world — cheering.
We obviously can’t know for sure that all of our conclusions are correct, but there certainly is a strong appearance of wrongdoing. And without question, it can be proven that Ward and George Pataki lied on MSNBC at a pivotal point for the future of the site. But the deception didn’t start or end there. Who would seriously suggest that no one needs to answer for their actions, when the consequences keep growing and already are incalculable?
Our country has the highest incarceration rate in the world, but that population is made up of violent felons, petty criminals, and an occasional Bernie Madoff. We can’t hope to have the kind of responsive government we all want when we let those who sell out the people’s interests slither away without even the embarrassment of being exposed, so they can go on to do more damage.
There may or may not be criminal malfeasance in the sordid history at Ground Zero, but we need to find out or there will be no deterrence. Regardless of the compound offenses and blunders that were made at the site prior to Ward’s tenure, once we sat in his office in September, 2008, with Twin Towers II designer Ken Gardner, and told him of a plan that would “save billions of dollars and years of time,” it was his duty to do the analysis that would either credit or discredit it.
There is nothing in the agency’s by-laws that would authorize him to decide on his own to keep that information from the Commissioners or that would authorize the Commissioners to keep a matter of such potential consequence from the Governors.
If the public had been allowed to audit the Commissioners’ meetings, as required by law, the decision to ignore a fully designed plan which, after a straightforward transition, could have rapidly gone into construction would never have succeeded. That would have given the country our treasured skyline back, better than ever, at a tremendous savings – as the contracts and the people called for.
It really is as simple as that. The logic behind those claims is clear. If officials could have discredited the Twin Towers II plan, they surely would have. Now, the only way we are ever likely to find out at what stage the decision was made to ignore such a promising option is through depositions, which is not something we will say more about here.
But while finding out who gained by the deception has yet to be uncovered, the loser is clearly the public. And the damage is compounding all the time. Just last month, the PA issued $1 billion in bonds that we pointed out to Citigroup could not ethically be sold before the AAA lawsuit is decided, unless it were made explicitly clear to the investors that they would be buying into an agency that could be instantly insolvent if the toll increase is reversed and that might not exist when the bonds mature in 40 years.
We got no reply, but are on the record. Now that Silverstein is about to bring to market some of the Liberty Bonds that the PA gave him — for no clear reason — the agency’s outlook becomes an even more urgent consideration, since the bonds are publicly backed.
The very fact that the Commissioners did the public’s business in secret and to this day refuse to cooperate by releasing the contracts that were the product of those secret meetings — even though the Freedom of Information laws put the documents in the public domain — makes it obvious that they have something to hide. How can they be trusted with vast amounts of the public’s money?
Why should the public bear the cost of officials’ willful mismanagement, while those responsible invariably get away with avoiding the consequences of their choices? Isn’t that what all the public protests — on both ends of the political spectrum — are really about?
People on the right may question the motives of the left and vice versa, but we are all increasingly concerned with where the country is headed. Not only are we all sick of the double standard, but we are starting to realize that tolerating pervasive corruption is like letting termites eat the foundations of our country out from under us. Then what?
The World Trade Center is the perfect place to start fixing a system that is badly broken. Resurrecting the preeminent symbol of “United We Stand” would give us the model for tackling our other challenges: together. It would be a shining monument to what the American people can accomplish when we join forces to solve our problems — which is the only way we ever will.
9/30/11 — “What a Relief…” We’re back online. It was a daily shock not to be able to see and update the site that has been at the center of our universe since March, 2006. But as we wrote on our new Facebook page, it made us realize what matters most…
The vital heart of this mission isn’t what we post online, or even the signatures and comments that mean so much, but is in advancing our efforts to expose and correct the malfeasance at Ground Zero. That effort is, without a doubt, gaining ground every day. We are eager to get it all posted, but the work has to be done before we can post it. But supporters can be sure that we will get updates online as soon as we can.
Thank you for all the support. We appreciated the messages we got over the 10th Anniversary and were sorry not to be able to respond. The response is in pressing on.
9/11-12/11 — “Words of Love…” Everyone who experienced the aftermath of the attacks remembers “The Power of One.” United We Stand / Divided We Fall is not a bland slogan. It is a cosmic promise written into our nation’s DNA: United we can accomplish anything, no matter how great the challenge. Divided we will be defeated at everything we try to do.
9/10/11 — “Words of Wisdom…” Columnist Peggy Noonan wrote in today’s Wall Street Journal: “We’ll Never Get Over It, Nor Should We” Referring to the sacrifice and bravery of the firefighters, she concluded:
She put her finger on the whole sham by pointing out that we didn’t do right by the heroes at the 9/11 Memorial. We certainly could have and should have. How did it get so ridiculously screwed up? The picture of the three firefighters balancing on the Pile and raising the flag should have been cast in bronze and been the focus of the entire memorial. Instead, what we got was sanitzed, anesthetized, glamorized. We hope the museum will be raw and real — or don’t bother.
9/10/11 — “Words of Power…” Louis Epstein, founder of the World Trade Center Restoration Movement, an organization that was formed ten years ago tomorrow, was a founding member of the Twin Towers Alliance and very helpful in the first year of our existence. In the week preceding 9/11, “The Call” — a show on the local 24-hour Time-Warner cable news station — featured a different 9/11-related topic every night for viewers to call or write in about. He sent them the following rousing, unambiguous, rebuke:
8/16/11 — “THE ANATOMY OF A SWINDLE…” We got an email from our friend “Pete From New Jersey” last month looking for an update. Here is another catch-all bulletin. Our entire focus remains on getting “The Swindle At Ground Zero — Selling America Short” ready for release. We are much closer to doing that, but the many Freedom of Information requests we are managing are still yielding important results. The record will prove very embarrassing to officials – and to those in the media who buried the story, leaving it to private citizens to uncover.
For the past year and a half we have been asking officials to produce the documents that will support what they have spent ten years telling the public about the redevelopment of the World Trade Center. Their answers and non-answers suggest not mere misconduct, but outright fraud and possible collusion. The following report is for those who want to know where things stand. Those who would rather wait for the digest, will find it included in “The Swindle At Ground Zero.”
Since this bulletin was first posted in August a lot has transpired, so rather than try to work the updates into this framework, we will just make some minor changes here and move on.
We have no way of knowing whether the ten-year-long blackout on everything that contradicts the official version of events at Ground Zero is deliberate or circumstantial. But we are about to find out. We will send “The Swindle at Ground Zero” to those who are touting the apparent progress at Ground Zero with fatuous reports that are no more than PA and Silverstein press releases and then see if they cover it or ignore it.
We will also reach out to public figures like Robert DeNiro and Steven Spielberg, who need to know that the evidence of wrongdoing at the site is not a matter of opinion, but is grounded in the black-and-white results of Freedom of Information inquiries. They are masters at their craft, but it is very doubtful that they would knowingly lend their reputations to spreading a compound lie.
Last December, the New York Times sued the NYPD for “routinely violating a state law that requires government agencies to provide information to the press and the public.” Whatever the eventual outcome of that suit, the Times obviously can’t turn a blind eye now to a report documenting “FOIL” abuses that far exceed their own complaint in terms of both magnitude and the consequences, without damaging their famous credibility.
The American people have no idea how much of what passes for news today is just the reprinting of press releases from a stable of sources — which, in the case of the WTC, has resulted in “news” that doesn’t pass the smell test. What can’t be denied is that this swindle could NEVER have taken place if the media were digging for truth and printing investigative reports, instead of merely distributing what amounts to propaganda. No doubt many in the media have been swindled too and have no idea what a giant PR stunt this has all been. What really matters is what they do with the information now.
Silverstein’s public relations mastermind, Howard Rubenstein, has saturated the media in an all-out effort to make a colossal failure appear to be a great triumph. A good example of that was the appearance of Larry Silverstein on “60 Minutes” in early 2010 to tell the whole nation his tale of woe on the eve of a major Arbitration Panel decision. Now that we are a month away from the 11th, papers and magazines are awash with 9/11 human-interest stories and not a week goes by without a new Silverstein or Port Authority version of reality going unchallenged by a Stepford Press.
Even the toll-hike uproar examined below was self-inflicted and not the result of media efforts. But we are confident that once independent-minded professionals are exposed to the facts as presented in “The Swindle At Ground Zero” they will dig deeper and find that no amount of “strategic communications” will be able to discredit what we present. Mr. Rubenstein is a master of manipulation, but his talents had no place at the World Trade Center.
One recent goldmine of disinformation was a widely reprinted report out of Agence France Presse (AFP). The New Zealand Herald attached a headline to the news release — New Twin Towers ‘vast improvement’– that is startling proof of how little people around the world understand what it is we are doing.
The article begins with Larry Silverstein spouting the usual half-truths: “When the buildings are built we will look back at them and say these are a vast improvement on what was there originally.” But no one was ever suggesting rebuilding forty-year-old buildings — so what is his point?
Put the much-vaunted architectural advances, green technology, construction materials, and cutting-edge security into new Twin Towers and they would be far more impressive in most peoples’ estimation. The piece ends by irresponsibly allowing Silverstein to claim that the whole World Trade Center will be finished by 2016, without ever questioning the grounds for that wild assumption.
To pump deliberate misinformation to millions of readers, regarding a project that has a world-class reputation for broken timetables, is irresponsible and unethical. It is a perfect example of how the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight has incrementally misled the people into thinking at every stage that the project was too far gone to remedy, when nothing could be further from the truth.
The AFP “report” also included PA Boss Christopher Ward doing his foot-in-mouth routine by remarking: “Soaring, beautiful office buildings is what New York needs… It didn’t need at this point a symbol, a message.” For a man with so much power he doesn’t make much sense. The new World Trade Center, he said, “is not a symbol, it’s a site.” That remark establishes for all time that he was the absolute worst possible choice for the job. He could have built soaring, beautiful office buildings that were both a transcendent symbol and “a site” for far less than what he has already spent — and for what?
If the transition to “Twin Towers II” had been launched in 2009, the entire site would be almost finished by now. When Ken Gardner, Richard Hughes, and Margaret Donovan met the Director in his office on September 18, 2008, we showed him a credible, fully-designed plan that truly would have saved billions of dollars and years of time — there is no question about it. At that point, there was virtually nothing standing in the way but the political will. The only real casualties of the transition to the people’s choice would have been the so-called transit “hub” and the ill-conceived Greenwich Street connection — two non-issues in the public’s mind. But he thought he was so smart. It is no surprise to us that Mr. Ward finally tripped over his own ego.
The trouble is that his misfortune is our misfortune — unless officials finally admit the folly of what they are inflicting on the American people. As Renzo Piano, who designed the World Financial Center and is one of the world’s great architects, once noted: “If a writer makes a bad book, eh, people don’t read it. But if you make bad architecture, you impose ugliness on a place for a hundred years.” The announcement of the new “110 Stories” app that allows users to point their phones to Ground Zero and see the Towers’ outline in the skyline is part of the Zeitgeist — a sign of the times. But the app only does in a small way what would occur naturally on a large scale unless the current project is abandoned, because the counterfeit towers would always be overshadowed by the missing Twins.
We lost the Twin Towers twice — first to a force that was beyond our control and then to a force that was supposed to be under our control. What Ward doesn’t realize is that he actually did build a symbol after all — a symbol that represents the arrogance of officials who have stopped listening to the American people and the cowardice of so-called leaders who are unwilling to do what has to be done to fix our entrenched problems. This is the right place to draw a line in the sand. This is the best place to show we are serious about rebuilding our country and removing the roadblocks in our way.
THE PORT AUTHORITY
Last week, a New York Post article reported that a massive boost in tolls was planned to pay for PA mismanagement. “To sell the financial package, the PA’s administration plans to announce that, without the hikes, the agency would have to shutter 240 capital projects, translating into the loss of 3,000 construction jobs.” The report added that “the PA might also have a problem finishing the construction of the new World Trade Center.” In other words, the public is being squeezed at the worst possible time.
Officials of the Port Authority who have done everything they can to keep the public in the dark about their shenanigans at Ground Zero now have the gall to demand a 50% hike in tolls that are already ridiculously expensive (jumping from $8 to $12) so that they can finish what most of us never would have approved of if they had done what they were doing in the open.
That is why they have withheld the contracts we have been asking for, which they are required by Freedom of Information laws to make public. That is the behavior of an agency that knew that if the people had learned a year ago of the concessions that have been granted to Silverstein, they would never have stood for the “Master Plan.” Since they released their “Roadmap” in 2008, the strategy has been to make it impossible to correct what they were never authorized to do.
Their own by-laws call for their business to be done in the public eye except where it would “clearly endanger” the public interest, but since the public apparently has to be protected from itself, nothing regarding the WTC has been done openly since Pataki hijacked the process ten years ago. It has been nothing but a parade of naked backsides getting covered ever since. The monthly Board Meetings are Politburo events where the Commissioners rubber-stamp policies that are never deliberated or discussed in the open — where common sense and common decency might prevail — as required by law.
A follow-up to the initial report in the Post explained: “The agency said the hikes have been brought about by the recession coupled with increased costs, including $6 billion in post-9/11 security measures and another $11 billion to rebuild the World Trade Center, which is owned by the agency.” Buried in the PA’s financial reports are no doubt the line items to back up those figures — but where is the analysis by independent experts? Just because they spent it doesn’t mean they spent it properly. Neither the state of the site nor the recent reports of egregious security lapses reflect what it has and is costing the public.
What is really odd is that the Governors swiftly rejected the hikes — so why would this agency publish news that they hadn’t passed by their bosses first? Or did they and it is all just good cop-bad cop theater at our expense? On August 8th, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., not only denounced the proposal but called for a full audit of the Port Authority’s revenues, costs, efficiencies and fee structure. It’s about time.
It’s too bad no one thought of that five or six years ago — or even two years ago when we wrote repeatedly begging the Senators on the Senate Finance Committee to do an independent audit of the site before reauthorizing the Liberty Bonds. As usual, there is more than enough blame to go around, but is there any authentic desire to do what it takes to fix the core problem?
Public outrage is continuing to mount as another Post report revealed that “PA plays $2B hide and sneak at WTC” and charges that “officials were not candid about the agency’s finances — even as construction lumbered ahead.” But why are they surprised, when a willingness to say whatever it takes was Ward’s operating model when he was Bloomberg’s head of the Department of Environmental Protection from 2002 to 2005, overseeing New York State’s second-largest construction project at the Croton Water Filtration Plant?
A 69-page complaint filed by a New York State Assemblyman back in 2007 asked the City’s Department of Investigations to look into the matter. And when Ward was appointed to the PA job, Assemblyman Dinowitz wrote in the Daily News that: “Giving Ward PA job like fox guarding henhouse.” But did anyone in government or the media follow-up when the Department of Investigation buried the request? There’s no record of it. When we sent the DOI a Freedom of Information request to provide the Department’s findings, they refused to tell us. We think Ward and everyone who backed him are sailing into a Perfect Storm.
Once the two Governors see what we have uncovered, we really think they will want to reexamine the entire project. Capping the Freedom Tower at 80 stories or 82 stories (as the picture in our header depicts) is no more or less probable than capping it at 20, 40 or 60. It was always an incredibly difficult sell. Therefore, what matters is that the case be as compelling as it can be – and we are being honest when we say it gets stronger every day.
When people say that the Port Authority owns the site, what do they think that means? Does the Executive Director, who serves at the pleasure of New York’s Governor own the site? Do the bureaucrats whose inflated salaries are paid for with ever-increasing tolls own the site? Do the ten Commissioners who are appointed by the Governors of New York and New Jersey own the site? Do the Governors of New York and New Jersey own the site? Of course not. So where does this Authority get its authority? Who owns the site? Who pays the bills? The people do. So who’s the boss?
Some very important people seem to think that Larry Silverstein is the boss. In October, 2009 Mayor Bloomberg made the astonishing comment that developer Larry Silverstein’s lease and agreement with the Port Authority cannot be challenged. “Larry has everybody by the proverbials-he really does,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “He can stretch this out for many years, use all of his money, and we can wind up with nothing. Nobody likes it, but that’s the truth.” Really? Is it the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
If that is the truth, then it should trigger a full-blown investigation — because on 9/11/2001 Mr. Silverstein was a leaseholder with the contractual obligation to clear away the destruction at his own expense and rebuild the Twin Towers at his own expense. How was he empowered to such a degree that we are all at his mercy? It is time to find out.
We can’t say anything conclusive because we have been trying since the beginning of last year to look at the contracts that form the basis of all that has happened at the WTC without success. For some reason, Port Authority officials would rather break their own by-laws and employ ridiculously transparent stalling tactics to prevent giving the public access to contracts that, according to the Freedom of Information laws that New York, New Jersey, and the Port Authority have adopted, belong in the public domain. WHY?
When we got involved in this battle in 2005 — after it became clear that officials would never come to their senses without the public’s help — we bought into the conventional wisdom that the legality of what had taken place was a given. Even people who believed that the origins of the plan were improper, did not question that officials had a legal basis for doing what they have been doing. BAD CALL.
Trying to get to the bottom of the Silverstein connection without the benefit of those contracts — the original Silverstein contracts, the 2003 Memorandum to those contracts, and the 2006 Master Development Agreement — has been like walking through a maze blindfolded. But the last eighteen months have been quite a revelation in any case. Anyone who looks into “The Swindle At Ground Zero — Selling America Short” is going to find that the title is not an exaggeration.
Mr. Silverstein is using the public as a bank, because no lending institution would help finance his project, even when the markets were booming. As long as he has both hands in the public purse, the public is entitled to as detailed a disclosure as any bank would require. Why are these things secret?
Silverstein Properties paid either one or two premiums for insurance that was available to them only because they had contracted with a public authority to lease public property and had a contractual obligation to rebuild if it were ever damaged or destroyed.
It wasn’t until the Arbitration of 2009/2010 brought by the brazen Mr. Silverstein, that we started focussing on the site’s underlying contracts. What will they say when they learn that a man who has been helping himself to the insurance money to pay his expenses, including his rent — even taking back his down payment — has been accommodated instead of being excused from the site because he could not hold up his end of the bargain?
The paying public has a right to know why someone who was bound by his 2001 contracts to redevelop ALL of the lost space was allowed to shift most of the expense of the Freedom Tower onto the public, while being paid over $20 million in development fees – for merely doing something he had paid for the right to do on July 24, 2001.
Why have the proceeds, which were earmarked for reconstruction, reportedly gone to pay the annual rent on the property and even to refund both Mr. Silverstein’s and his backers’ down payment on the property?!! Wouldn’t it be insane if even Silverstein’s WTC public relations expenses and legal fees came out of the insurance fund?
That would mean that public is paying for the disinformation that has so distorted reality at the Trade Center and even paid the lawyers who sued the Port Authority in 2009 and won an award that amounted to a year’s free rent — gouging the public and diminishing the money going into actual construction at the same time.
Why shouldn’t it be made plain to the public that is bearing the burden at the site how the insurance proceeds, including business interruption insurance have been used before asking for another cent of public funding. Without access to the contracts, we can’t be sure of anything. But it appears that what really makes Silverstein a Stakeholder and the public a Silent Partner is the profound lack of good information and oversight. So, before the public is asked to contribute another dime, let’s correct that deficiency once and for all.
The simple and awful truth is that if officials had let the 2001 contracts operate and stayed out of the way, Silverstein would have had to build new Twin Towers and would have had much of the money to do so. And who sanctioned the diversion of earmarked construction funds knowing that the public would have to cover the shortfall? The Commissioners of the Port Authority — the same people who are supposed to know what would “clearly endanger the public interest.” The people deserve to know WHY?
We are glad that there is something suitable ready for the 10th Anniversary, because a lot of dedicated people have been working very hard for the sake of the country and the 9/11 Families. But it is certainly not the best we can do, which is why we are exploring on the Profiles in Vanity page how we can improve on a bad situation, and save a great deal of money, by letting the public be part of the solution for a change.
One very important aspect of the Memorial that is not common knowledge is that one reason there will be bronze parapets at the plaza level engraved with the victims’ names, instead of 30 or more feet under, is the sacrifice of citizens who refused to accept what officials were planning. The original design that placed the names in an open underground gallery was scrapped for operational reasons, when it was recognized that the waterfalls would blow into the gallery and would have to be shut-off in the winter months.
But the designer, Michael Arad, said he would rather do away with the waterfalls, than do away with the gallery — as if all that mattered was his “vision”. So, while it was true that economics played its part, the two-and-a-half-week-long wintry sleep-in and other concientious objections certainly contributed to officials’ grudging decision to bring the names to ground level.
In Michael Bloomberg’s case, attention to the public’s opinion is always grudging. His letters to the public who write to City Hall about Ground Zero always start the same way: “It is very valuable to read your thoughts and feelings, and I appreciate your taking the time to write to me.” If only that were true. But the Mayor’s words are cheap, while what his actions invariably say is that New York is actually his city and we are all squatters on his property.
It is anyone’s guess whether the names of those who were murdered ten years ago next month would be visible to the public on this anniversary, if Rosaleen Tallon, after tucking her babies in, hadn’t spent seventeen days “sleeping” on a frozen the sidewalk in front of her brother’s FDNY station — Ten House on Liberty Street — joined by other 9/11 Family Members and supporters. But, whatever the reason, thank goodness the suits in charge got one thing right.
What a shame the “memorial jury” was made up of a panel of artists, civic and cultural leaders, and one 9/11 Family Member, with only lip-service paid to what the rest of us wanted. As with the Twin Towers, all officials had to do was ask the public what they wanted to see, encourage wide debate in the media, and then publish the findings — if they had really wanted to know.
What is staring the American people in the face at Ground Zero is that the same “leaders” who had to be forced to respect common sense when it came to the World Trade Center and something as basic as the names on the memorial are the same ones who are in charge of fixing all our other troubles. So why should anyone be surprised when nothing ever gets better and matters only get worse?
Ground Zero is the triumph of narrow special interests over our common interests. As Ms. Tallon said of the memorial in September of 2010, “It is all wrong in its symbolism. I look up to the sky to remember him. I will never go down.”
One very big challenge for us has been how to judge the timing of what we are doing, when so many of the dynamics are constantly shifting. It would have been great if we could have simply done our work without comment until our various efforts were ready for release, but we realize that there are people who care deeply about this effort and visit the site faithfully for news. So we make informed guesses that are subject to change — and sometimes they change a lot, but always for the better. What has never changed is our conviction that new, amazing, majestic Twin Towers — that would include all the advances of the current project and then some — are right for what ails our country. And we are more confident than ever that there is a path opening ahead, as improbable as it may seem, that will lead straight to what the People want, New York needs, and America deserves.
We have played our part to the best of our ability. As soon as this current phase is launched — we hope by 9/11 — to get back to finalizing and distributing the publication that will include the hundreds and hundreds of comments and the master plan for rescuing the site. When that is released, we will have established that what is taking place at Ground Zero is very wrong, has been wrong from the beginning, can still be made right, and that in the process of making it right would return a large dose of sanity to an insane, out-of-control, system and power to a demoralized and disgusted citizenry.
One thing we have steered clear of even though it has seemed to many to be the natural next step is staging a protest at Ground Zero. That is because we believe it would be playing into the hands of those in power who would love to discredit this effort and have tried through the years to pretend that the support for rebuilding the Twin Towers is a fringe phenomenon, instead of something that resonates with a super-majority of the American people. But the outlook for a protest may be changing. In the past those in charge could feed the media stories about how great they were doing, and make those who challenged their agenda look foolish. But now that charade is coming to an end — and a breathtaking alternative that has been evolving since the summer of 2008 is coming into focus.
We got another email from “Pete From New Jersey” — which is where this bulletin started a week ago. He said we are free to use his full name — but we think that as “Pete From New Jersey” he is like an Everyman. Tonight’s message certainly had that quality:
But that is what is so bizarre. They aren’t making money — they are sucking it down a drain — and the site they are trying to patch together would never be as profitable as the one that would satisfy both the people and the investors: Majestic, dazzling, Twin Towers. If anyone doubts it, it wouldn’t be hard to determine. All it would take is an official online offering for informational purposes only and watch how people would flood to a site that now boasts of two non-government tenants. But there is a real solution to a real fiasco…
Just as Christopher Ward has proven to be the worst possible man to head the Port Authority, it is hard to imagine anyone better to be leading New York and New Jersey right now than Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie. At a time of fiscal doom for the two states, as well as the Port Authority, a strong case can be made for the Federal Government to seize the property by eminent domain and boot the conniving, greedy Mr. Silverstein off the property. The toll hike was the perfect trigger and proof positive that those who control the site are not up to the job and have forfeited their right to continue that control.
The idea is neither far-fetched nor simplistic, but is instead an elegant solution that would be incredibly practical and rewarding for all concerned — except, that is, for George Pataki, Michael Because-I-Said-So Bloomberg, Christopher Ward, and Larry Woe-Is-Me Silverstein. Ground Zero is potentially the two states’ most valuable asset and by their proximity the states would benefit no matter who the site belongs to — just as New York City would benefit from a thriving Trade Center even though it does not own the site.
It is time for the World Trade Center to belong to the American people — and anyone else around the world who wants to buy a share in what would be the most celebrated skyscrapers in the world. The title of tallest is always fleeting, but the towers that would be rise at Ground Zero would never be eclipsed, because they would be a glowing example of how much better things work when the people are allowed to participate in their destiny as opposed to being victimized by their own government. The fact is that it is the best interest of every American citizen to have the Federal government take over the site.
The cost would be short-term and the rewards would be long-term. For those who are near-sighted and don’t see it that way, they should consider the fact that New York and New Jersey are net taxpayers who have for more than sixty years sent much more in tax money to Washington than has ever come to them from Washington. Most states, on the other hand, are net tax recipients who receive more than they give. So at a time when everything is being reevaluated in Washington, advancing the money to finally fix Ground Zero in a way that is a real credit to our nation would be some of the best money we could ever spend.
How would it work? It would be the best of what a public-private partnership can be, unlike the lopsided Silverstein model. Instead of sucking the public dry through a shady joint venture, the Towers would pay for themselves and the profits would go to those who invest in them. What follows is presented for the sake of discussion and obviously would need to be refined:
Paying New York and New Jersey the fair market value for the site would be the states’ incentive to let go of it. The Port Authority would continue to own the transportation infrastructure and the scaled back below-ground transit hub and the retail space, the Federal Government would own the land, and the shareholders would own everything (except the Memorial) from the ground up. At the same time, a cooperative would be formed that would announce the intention of building 120-story state-of-the-art Twin Towers, based on the fully-designed “Twin Towers II” plan, to be opened by 2016.
Shares would be sold in tranches with individuals and small investors getting first crack at it, followed by large investors and sovereign funds. There is plenty of money in the country and the world, but what is missing is the confidence to put it back into circulation. This would be a bold and thrilling catalyst to a self-fulfilling triumph. It would likely raise far more capital overnight than the cost of the project — out of which the Government would be immediately repaid and a block of shares would be assigned to a First Responders’ fund to offset the heavy price so many continue to pay.
All fifty Governors would oversee the cooperative, with the Governors of New York and New Jersey presiding, and every debate and decision would be broadcast on a dedicated web site. The 2016 date would allow two full years to evaluate where we are, look at all the options, invite creative input, convert existing contracts, start the fabrication of materials, and demolish what stands in the way. A twenty-foot illuminated model in the Winter Garden would become a destination for tourists from all over the world.
Work would go forward on the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The Freedom Tower would be capped and the interior finished. Work on the transit hub, Greenwich Street, the underground parking facility, and the Silverstein buildings would cease. Displaced construction workers would continue to be paid and would be deployed at the discretion of the two Governors on capital projects until they could get back to work on the site. The deconstruction of Tower 4 would start right away and an off-site tour bus facility would be developed in Battery Park City to service the Memorial, pending a final plan.
The eminent domain mechanism would cut through the entangling contracts that have given Larry Silverstein an advantage he never paid for. And with the Port Authority out of the picture the upper floors would include some of the most prestigious residences anywhere — in a 21st-century city-within-a-city. Since the 2016 date is a real date and the rosy Silverstein forecast is not, virtually the only thing we would be giving up is uncertainty for certainty and disappointment for delight.
One last time, we stand at a crossroads on the site — and the choice is clear. We can build a World Trade Center worthy of the price our country and our people paid on 9/11 — one that would galvanize the country and inspire the world. Or we can spend many more years paying through the nose for an irrelevant, second-rate office park.
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