Mayor Michael Bloomberg Addresses Congress

Good afternoon. I am delighted to welcome you to New York for this truly historic occasion.

Today, we hearken back to the early days of our Republic, when the first Congress convened in New York and George Washington was inaugurated as our first president.

Many of our founding fathers lived in New York in those days, including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Hancock and others. So many, in fact, that the painter of "The Declaration of Independence," the famous canvas that hangs in the Capitol Rotunda, had to move to New York to finish his work. It's often been pointed out that the decision Congress made to move the capital from New York to a new site on the banks of the Potomac in effect gave the U.S. two capitals.

We now have one capital in Washington, D.C., for the government, and one here, for business and culture. Rather than feel slighted, New York has always embraced our role. Today's joint session - for however briefly - made New York the nation's capital once again. But now, we'll just have to revert to our regular status - as capital of the free world.

I would like to acknowledge an institution without which this day would not have been possible, the Annenberg Foundation. The foundation generously donated one million dollars to cover all the travel, food and security expenses associated with today's wonderful show of support for freedom. Lee Annenberg, will you please stand to accept our gratitude?

Congress's decision to return to New York symbolically closes a circle at a crucial time in our history. It brings Congress back to its first home, if only for one day, to send a message to the nation and the entire world: The spirit of this city and the spirit of this country remain unshaken. We are as united today as we were when the first Congress met in Lower Manhattan more than 200 years ago, because our commitment to freedom has never been stronger.

As a nation, and as a city, we learned a lot about ourselves on September. 11, when the unimaginable became a reality. What happened down the street from here wasn't just an assault on New York. It was an attack on our nation and on all freedom-loving people around the world.

That day, as the world watched - as our rescue teams battled the smoke and the chaos - it didn't matter whether you came from Astoria or Atlanta or Australia. From Queens or Kansas or Kenya. New York was everybody's hometown. The stakes for our nation were raised. Someone placed a big bet that they could destroy New York - a city that has contributed immeasurably to building the greatest democracy on earth.

This city has responded. This nation has responded.

America is a nation founded on a particular set of ideas: the right to express yourself as you see fit; the right to worship God in your own way; the right to live without fear. What happened on 9/11 was not only an attack on our people, but on those freedoms and our basic way of life. And all Americans understand that.

New Yorkers recognize that we would not have made it through the darkest days in our city's history without our nation's help. It poured in from around the country - in the form of food, equipment and volunteers, and through emotional and moral support beyond value.

And I want all Americans to understand that we know you were there for us when we needed you. And we will be there for you if you ever need us. Congress also has stood with us. More than we ever had a right to expect, you helped, and are continuing to help, New York to rebuild and recover. And on behalf of all New Yorkers, it is my honor to say thank you.

As you know, our work is not done yet, not by any means. But the recovery that began on 9/11, and the work we've done since, simply could not have happened without your support. And let me also convey our appreciation to President Bush, for his courageous leadership in a time of crisis for coming to New York to share our grief and to share our determination to not just endure the tragedy visited upon us, but to emerge stronger from the events of Sept. 11.

I am pleased to report that with your help, we have made triumphant progress since that day.

Because of remarkable bipartisan cooperation among all levels of government, labor and the private sector, we finished the recovery work at the World Trade Center site ahead of schedule, under budget and with no additional loss of life. This, while the search for the remains of our loved ones went forward with dignity and honor.

We created a temporary memorial in Battery Park where the "Sphere" sculpture from the World Trade Center plaza now sits.

On Wednesday, during the one-year commemoration of that fateful day, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, our secretary of state, Colin Powell, and heads of state from around the world will join a ceremony there. At that observance, an eternal flame will be lighted near the base of "The Sphere" in honor of those we lost, and to show that democracy and freedom will always endure.

We also honor those we lost by building a better city for the future. With Congress's help, we are doing just that.

Largely due to an economic incentive program, which you have funded, many companies that were displaced plan to rejoin those - such as American Express, Merrill Lynch and Dow Jones - that have already moved back and made long-term commitments to staying in Lower Manhattan. Because of a residential incentive program you have funded - and because Lower Manhattan is a great place to live - more than 90 percent of the housing in Lower Manhattan is occupied. And the federally funded Liberty Bonds program will spur billions of dollars in construction in Lower Manhattan for new commercial spaces and housing.

The federal, state, and local governments have forged a genuine partnership to revive Lower Manhattan - and to rebuild our essential transportation, telecommunications and energy infrastructure. Just last month, FEMA granted us unprecedented flexibility to spend federal funds to create a transportation center for the 21st century that will make Lower Manhattan more accessible than ever.

The future of Lower Manhattan is promising, as is the future of all of New York City and, indeed, of the entire country.

Here, our city continues to be the safest large city in the nation. We have committed increased resources to combat the new threats we now face from enemies - foreign and domestic. We've strengthened our counterterrorism and intelligence operations. And as they take on these new burdens, our Police Department continues to drive crime down.

New York has no intention of relinquishing its title of capital of the free world. It's a city of big ideas, big projects and big events, and that will never change.

For example, in the year since the September 11 attack, New York City has been host to a World Series, the New York City Marathon, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square (where I was inaugurated), the World Economic Forum, a new international film festival, the Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular, the U.S. Tennis Open and last night's Times Square kickoff of the N.F.L. season. We even held a world-class Grand Prix bicycle race right here on Wall Street. Since we're not the type to rest on our laurels, we are trying to convince the Republican and Democratic National Committees to hold both conventions here in the year 2004. As a matter of fact, this joint session is a perfect opportunity to go after both at the same time. How bipartisan is that?

We are also pursuing a Super Bowl and the 2012 Summer Olympics. I see that Nancy Pelosi is here from our fellow Olympics finalist, San Francisco. Do you want to arm-wrestle for it? I better start training. After all, Nancy, you are the minority whip.

That's just the kind of ambition you'd expect of this city, and, if anything, 9/11 has made us even more committed to demonstrating the energy and vibrant cultural life of our city. We will create a memorial on the site of the World Trade Center that everyone can be proud of - a memorial that not only honors those that were taken, but reaffirms the values that triumphed on that day, and the days after. In our actions, in our passion, we can do great things and show that we will not allow our lives to be ruled by fear, but be guided by the very principles of democracy which you, the Congress, represent - and which the terrorists found so threatening.

When you look at New York today, when you look at this city where people from all parts of the world live next to each other, where more than 120 different languages are spoken, and where virtually every religion in the world is practiced, you realize what makes America and what makes New York great. We thrive because of our diversity, because of our respect for one another, and because a free society is a strong society.

In conclusion, let me recall what our president said about that September morning. He described it as a battle between fear and freedom. By convening in our city, you, the U.S. Congress, have demonstrated to all New Yorkers, and all the world, that fear can never prevail - as long as freedom is strong.

Text of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's address at a luncheon for joint meeting of Congress in New York City, September 6, 2002