Gotham Gazette

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A Time to Untangle Red Tape

The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center has shown us unthinkable horrors and unimaginable acts of courage and heroism. It has united New Yorkers in grief and in hope. Now, New York City must clear away the rubble and look to the future.

There is a clear need for the city, the state, and the federal governments to work together with the private sector to rebuild the devastated downtown. It is crucial that we do this quickly, to show the world that New York City is back in business. This is not a time for red tape or tangled bureaucracy. This city needs leaders who know the system well and who will be able to sidestep time-consuming hassles. Experience is now more vital than ever.

On September 11, we lost more than buildings, roads, and tunnels. We lost mothers and fathers, sons, and daughters, friends and heroes. The outpouring of support for the victims of the attack has been remarkable and is a testament to the greatness of this city and of this nation.

Millions have been donated to charitable funds, and the federal government has promised to provide tens of billions more. The people have made clear their desire to help. Now, we need to make sure that the victims are able to access the wide array of funds and programs that have been set up to aid them and that the help goes to the right place. For months, I have said that, as public advocate, I will help New Yorkers gain access to the benefits that are rightfully theirs. I can think of no better example of why this is so important.

The devastation of the September 11 attacks will have a lasting impact across the city. It has touched many of us personally and left deep and lasting physical and emotional scars. It has also left the city facing an unparalleled fiscal crisis. The city's economy, already suffering from the economic downturn, has been badly shaken by these tragic events. Today, the city faces a budget shortfall of $1 billion to $4 billion.

New York City has confronted other fiscal crises before and overcome them. In the 1970s, when the city was on the verge of bankruptcy, leaders of government, unions and the private sector came together to find solutions. I am proud of the role that my husband, Victor Gotbaum, played in resolving that crisis. I have learned from his experience, though, that we can only solve extraordinary problems with extraordinary measures.

We cannot simply tinker with programs and trim costs. We need to explore more innovative solutions and, once again, build an inclusive partnership to pull them off.

One of the great success stories of the past few years has been the transformation of the downtown area into a vibrant residential neighborhood. As we look to rebuild the commercial core, we should not neglect these displaced families. We must provide them with assurances that their apartments will be safe and livable and work to rebuild the infrastructure of retail stores, transportation and local institutions that made the neighborhood what it once was and will be again.

Over the next several years, as the mayor and other officials focus on these and other pressing issues, it will become more important than ever not to lose sight of the city's continuing needs. As public advocate, I will work hard to make sure that issues such as affordable housing, health care for our children and our families, and public education are not allowed to slip through the cracks. I will make certain that this tragedy doesn't make new victims.

Betsy Gotbaum is a former New York City parks commissioner and president of the New-York Historical Society and currently a candidate for public advocate. She will face Normal Siegel in a runoff election for the Democratic nomination on Oct. 11

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