April 11, 2003

Labor, Pataki Stage Massive Rally To Support Troops

Pro-Troops Event Draws 50,000

Staff Reporter of the Sun

Governor Pataki joined union leaders in addressing thousands of New Yorkers gathered at ground zero yesterday for a boisterous but peaceful rally in support of U.S. troops overseas.

The temptation to link the collapse of the Twin Towers to the war in Iraq proved irresistible to almost every speaker who addressed the flag-waving demonstrators lining West Street north of Liberty Street in Lower Manhattan.

“For many of us in New York, the war in Iraq….started right here in September 11, 2001,” said Mr. Pataki, addressing the throng from a platform overlooking the World Trade Center site. “You won that first battle in this war, and now our troops are winning the next battle in Iraq today.”

Mr. Pataki even suggested that the statue of the “evil dictator” that was toppled Wednesday in Baghdad should be melted down and then forged into a girder for the new buildings to be erected where Twin Towers once stood.

Mr. Pataki then introduced Bob Dole, the former senator, who immediately said, “There are more people here than in my home state of Kansas.”

The union of construction workers that organized the event estimated the crowd of union men, police, firefighters, and the occasional Wall Street banker and said, “I’d call Saddam’s rule a gangster regime, but that would be an insult to gangsters.”

The former Kansas senator, World War II veteran, and Republican presidential nominee, took the opportunity to denounce the negative reporting of American military action by former NBC correspondent Peter Arnett.

He also criticized the New York Times for highlighting the military’s “operational pause” on the road to Baghdad. Mr. Dole told the construction workers that the buildings that rise at ground zero “will be your memorial to the victims of 9/11, and it will be a labor of love.

“To visit this place is to stand on sacred ground,” he said.

Notably absent from the rally was Mayor Bloomberg, whose office is only four blocks away.

“He had budget meetings all afternoon,” said a spokesman for the mayor, Ed Skyler. The mayor will attend the funeral of a fallen Marine today, the spokesman said.

The president of the union sponsoring the event, Edward Malloy, of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, read a statement from the mayor in support of the troops.

That wasn’t enough for some in the crowd.

“Where’s Mike?” shouted a member of the audience. “Where is Mike?” shouted another.

Among the notable present was the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, Richard Grasso, who encouraged all Americans, “to celebrate the freedoms and fruits of the best country on earth.”

Sheila Macias, the wife of a Marine from Queens celebrating his birthday in Iraq, told the audience she was glad her husband was “helping those less unfortunate than us.”

“We are not pro-war – none of us are – we are pro-freedom,” said April Perez, the wife of another American serviceman in Iraq. Her creed was echoed by others at the rally.

The president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, delivered perhaps the most well-received oration of the day: “You attack one of us, you attack all of us,” he said, referring to the Al Qaeda terrorists.

Mr. Lynch also criticized anti-war protesters and their violent attacks on police, and he said their anti-war message was an attack on U.S. soldiers.

Despite the ebullience of many of the demonstrators, some of whom interrupted the speakers with shouts of “U.S.A., U.S.A.,” the rally never got out of control, and the Police Department said there were no arrests.