Hey Alan, you represent me and my neighbors

By David Stanke

Councilmember Alan Gerson recently supported family member demands that City Hall bring in the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) to supplement the search of the World Trade Center for human remains of 9/11. Recent finds of 9/11 human remains are sad, but bringing in the Pentagon is unnecessary. The possibility that federal government involvement could delay development is certainly a local concern. Downtown residents must wonder why our elected councilmember dedicates so much of his political capital on issues that are not central to his electorate. JPAC doesn’t have the expertise needed to supplement the W.T.C. search. JPAC experts know nothing of the complexity of the W.T.C. site and would have to undergo extensive education to be of any help. The city Medical Examiner’s Office already has JPAC expertise, but it has something JPAC does not: five years of experience with the specifics of this disaster. Fortunately, no one else in the world has experience with recovery from collapsed 110-story buildings.

Inviting JPAC to work at the site introduces a new player that may have authority and decision-making power. They certainly would be a new player for family members to pressure. JPAC represents further complexity without any benefit.

So why has Alan Gerson thrown his limited resources behind this cause and in direct opposition to City Hall? For many of us involved in restoring Downtown after 9/11, his actions come as no surprise. Mr. Gerson has missed the issues of primary importance to the people he represents. He has never seriously opposed 9/11 family member activist positions. He avoids 9/11 issues except when he can use them for publicity.

And we have had enormous issues since 9/11. Congressmember Jerrold Nadler has attacked the environmental issues. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been a solid force behind a sound rebuilding plan. Gerson has avoided any position that might cause controversy with external interests.

And further, Mr. Gerson occasionally takes on 9/11 family activist issues to grab the spotlight. In capitalizing on the publicity power of the grieved, he does not help them and, more importantly, he abandons those to whom he is responsible.

Local community leaders can name many instances in which he has failed to address critical issues. Often, it is his absence that is noted, but there are also examples of misdirected efforts:

• After 9/11/2001, Gerson hosted conversation sessions for residents and 9/11 family members to discuss issues. These feel-good sessions produced nothing. When irresolvable differences between participants surfaced, he went silent.

• Gerson supported the $1.5 million monstrosity of a mural covering Deutsche Bank when he should have demanded a real solution to this Downtown blight.

• He failed to take a position on the West St. tunnel, staying on the fence long after most local politicians opposed it.

• Gerson called for City Council hearings on lack of W.T.C. progress only after it became a national embarrassment. By this time, the major players were in the final negotiations. At the hearings, Gerson rambled, interspersing compliments and feel good platitudes. Only the persistent, insightful questions of Councilmember David Yassky of Brooklyn produced any insight.

• Gerson supported the removal of all but 9/11 specific institutions from the memorial quadrant.  This contributed to the death of the International Freedom Center and removal of a building dedicated to cultural exhibition space from the master plan.

• When family members opposed the memorial, he held hearings giving them yet another platform to air their demands, which included moving the memorial museum above ground, consuming still more W.T.C. space. Fortunately, Mayor Bloomberg resolved the issue with reductions to the size and cost of the memorial.

• Gerson demanded that there be no admission fee on the 9/11 museum. This would damage the financial strength of the memorial and pull funds from the city into the memorial. Again, museum fees do not register as an issue to the Downtown community.

Gerson may claim that he has acted on principle, but none of these issues involves moral right and wrong. More importantly, the highest principle for an elected official in a representative democracy is to support the people who put him or her in office. Gerson too often supports those who generate the most publicity.

I have a few suggestions on how Alan Gerson should spend the rest of his lame duck term. Downtown needs more schools. We need facilities to manage tour busses. We want a W.T.C. Performing Arts Center. We don’t want the “Grand Useless Walkway” on West St. in Battery Park City to consume valuable recreation space. We want soccer and baseball fields left intact.

We want clean air for our kids and ourselves, through the construction. We want the W.T.C. rebuilt quickly. There are enough issues to demand his full attention.

When politicians jump on the 9/11 activists’ causes, they use family member grief to further their own agendas. When Alan Gerson takes this route, he abandons the people he represents.

David Stanke lives and writes in Down­town Manhattan. His e-mail is davestanke@ebond.com.