August 17, 2005 Wednesday
TIME TO PULL THE PLUG
The Uniformed Firefighters Association's decision yesterday to withdraw support for the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, citing two controversial museums proposed there, may have ended the threat of institutionalized activism at Ground Zero.
Good for the UFA.
The union's "membership and our 9/11 families believe that the memorial design will take away from the memory and sacrifice of the firefighters who bravely gave their lives during the most horrific terrorist attacks our country has had to face," UFA President Steve Cassidy said.
Good for Steve Cassidy.
It's going to be especially hard now for the International Freedom Center and the Drawing Center to buck the opposition to their presence at Ground Zero.
The UFA speaks from the moral high ground: 343 firefighters died on 9/11.
Interestingly, the UFA announcement came on the very day that The New York Times - among the staunchest backers of the IFC and the Drawing Center - was reduced to attacking the sister of a pilot killed on one of the 9/11 planes, Debra Burlingame.
In a scathing editorial, the paper said criticizing the IFC's plans "may mean little more than subjecting them, essentially, to the veto of Debra Burlingame."
"Neither Ms. Burlingame nor her followers can be allowed to dictate the future [of Ground Zero]," it continued.
But Debra Burlingame is "dictating" nothing. Neither are the firefighters.
They are simply insisting that anti-American activism of the sort implicitly embedded in the IFC and the Drawing Center is inappropriate at any memorial site. And they are right.
The Times should be ashamed.
Happily, the tide is shifting: The Drawing Center has all but withdrawn, and the IFC was read the riot act last week by Gov. Pataki's main man at the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., Chairman John Whitehead.
If, by Sept. 23, officials aren't satisfied with the IFC's plans, "we will find another use or tenant . . . for that space," Whitehead said.
Again, for the record, there's nothing wrong with critical debate or even negative portrayals of America.
Just not at Ground Zero, where nearly 3,000 innocent people died.
The Times, of course, thrives on trashing America. And where better to do that than at Ground Zero?
But this paper has run scores of editorials, columns and news reports on the issue. So have numerous other publications.
Web sites are abuzz.
Plus, folks all over have joined the movement; 40,000 have signed its petition. (Indeed, grassroots America is taking note: Today, the tiny town of Anthony, Kan., will join in a "Take Back the Memorial" rally. Way to go, Anthony!)
At home, three local congressmen have threatened to work to bar federal funding for the memorial. Philanthropists, too, are balking - as Whitehead relentlessly reminds everyone.
So it's hardly just Burlingame and family members. And now add the UFA, representing 22,000 firefighters and wielding exquisite moral authority, as a foe.
Ironically, the Times, for all its personal vitriol toward Burlingame, essentially admitted she's right: that a chief concern is that the center will be "a place where people engage in free speech."
Now, three cheers for "free speech."
But there's a place for unfettered, raucous, rollicking, disrespectful-for-effect political debate - and that place, purely and simply, is not at the Ground Zero memorial.
To be sure, the Times got one thing right yesterday: It decried Pataki's lack of strong leadership regarding the two museums. He should have pulled the plug on them weeks ago.
So here's hoping the UFA's announcement will give him the cover he apparently feels he needs to do the right thing.
Which is to exorcise the IFC and the Drawing Center from Ground Zero, once and for all.