New York Post
September 22, 2005

Editorial

'NOW OR NEVER'

See also today's story

The planned International Freedom Center at Ground Zero got socked from two sides yesterday.

First, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association joined city firefighters in blasting plans for the proposed center.

Then, three key New York congressmen threatened hearings into the appropriateness on federal funding at Ground Zero, unless the facility submits "an acceptable plan."

Not coincidentally, tomorrow is the deadline set by Gov. Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg for a decision on the center's fate.

Which is why IFC officials today will pitch another iteration of their controversial undertaking to the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the Pataki/Bloomberg-controlled entity that will have the final word.

This version appears to differ from the original only superficially — and already has incurred the ire of 9/11 families opposed to anything detracting from the horror of the attack, and the heroic sacrifices that attended it.

The center intends to create a multimillion-dollar show-and-tell emporium allegedly meant to celebrate "freedom" — but with no guarantees it won't quickly degenerate into just one more bash-America venue.

"They don't belong here," said Debra Burlingame late yesterday; her brother, Chuck, was the pilot of the jet crashed by terrorists into the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, the folks behind the IFC were reeling from the letter PBA President Pat Lynch sent to the World Trade Center Foundation.

"We are deeply disturbed by the plans," Lynch wrote. "The World Trade Center memorial is not a place for domestic or international politics. It is not a place for art or . . . programming which trivializes or ignores the history of the site."

"We believe that the nearly 3,000 people who perished during the worst single attack this nation has ever seen deserve the respect and honor of a memorial that will never denigrate America or the American way of life," Lynch added.

Lynch said his group (which includes 50,000 active and retired cops) was joining the Uniformed Firefighters Association (with 22,000 members) "in calling for the removal of the International Freedom Center."

So how can Pataki and Bloomberg OK the center — opposed, as it is, by cops, firefighters and numerous 9/11 families?

And how successful can private fund-raising be if Reps. Vito Fossella, Peter King and John Sweeney tie up Washington's share of the necessary cash?

The IFC — founded by the head of a group that's suing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld personally for his role in the "abuse" of terrorist prisoners — is meant to be an academically oriented "educational" center.

You know what that means: Counting how many ways there are to blame America for the world's ills, including the 9/11 attacks themselves.

"Officers regularly put themselves at risk at protests and rallies so that public dissention can occur," Lynch said.

"Just as we do not see political rallies at Arlington National Cemetery . . . or performing arts at Oklahoma City National Memorial or debate at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, we should not see those activities . . . at this sacred site." Hear, hear.

Sufficient funding for the project has long been a concern of public officials. On Tuesday, the state Senate passed a bill to let taxpayers donate to the project by checking off a box on their tax returns; the Assembly passed the bill earlier.

Meanwhile, competition for funding from Hurricane Katrina has cut further into the memorial's pot.

But now comes the threat by Fossella, King and Sweeney to shine a spotlight on the entire "$2.7 billion in federal funding that will be spent at the site."

"It's now or never for the IFC," Fossella said. "The museum has until Friday to do what is right . . . We will not allow the American people to subsidize a museum that blames [America] for . . . 9/11."

Lower Manhattan Development Corp. Chairman John Whitehead has the new IFC on his desk. He promised that the center will be appropriate to the mission — "or we will find another use . . . for that space."

He needs to start looking.