10:45 am Aug. 20, 2012
Here's one Esquire reporter's explanation for why the redevelopment of Ground Zero has come to a halt: "The Port and the politicians who run it are pigs."
That's the very short version, anyway.
The story of the rebuilding of Ground Zero following the terrorist attacks has been one of near-constant political infighting and inefficacy, with the exception of one relatively productive three-and-a-half-year period during the tenure of Port Authority executive director Chris Ward, who was appointed by David Paterson.
Ward, among other things, succeeded in winning the support of pretty much every party involved in the site's redevelopment, and in delivering the September 11 memorial plaza in time for the attacks' 10th anniversary, one of the very few bright spots in the entire 11-year saga.
But Governor Andrew Cuomo, who Raab profiled back in 2000, never liked Ward, and resolved quickly not to keep him around.
He knew his days at the PA were numbered after Andrew Cuomo became governor in 2011 and ignored Ground Zero completely. Cuomo saw no upside for himself downtown—just a PA executive director making decisions, getting public credit. There were no meetings, no phone calls, no e-mails between the two about Ground Zero. When the press asked about it, the governor's office issued a statement saying he had no plans to replace Ward "at this time." Of course not: If he got rid of Ward before the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and anything went wrong with the race to finish the Memorial Plaza, Cuomo would rightly be the fall guy. But with those three words — "at this time" — Cuomo declared what most insiders already knew: It was now open season on Chris Ward.
According to Raab, at last year's commemoration of the attacks, the date by which Ward succeeded in delivering the Memorial plaza, this rather astounding exchange took place:
The dignitaries are assembled by the stage, waiting for Obama and Bush, when one of them overhears Pataki say to Cuomo, "Isn't this a great day? Just beautiful — and look how this has all turned out."
And Andrew Cuomo says to Pataki, "This is the biggest waste of money anybody's ever seen. Who would have ever spent this money? If we'd known what this was going to be like, nobody would have ever done this."
Both Cuomo's and Pataki's spokesmen strenuously deny that conversation ever took place.
"An unsourced quote attributed to the Governor in the latest issue of Esquire Magazine is totally false, was never said, and in no way is reflective of the Governor’s opinion," said Rich Bamberger, the governor's spokesman, in a statement.
"The 'yutz' who wrote this article is wrong on the facts, wrong on the motivations and dead wrong on the exchange between Governors Pataki and Cuomo," agreed Pataki spokesman David Catalfamo, in a separate statement. "It never happened! Shame on Esquire for printing this rubbish."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg personally asked Cuomo to let Ward stay on the job until the site's completion, because "Bloomberg's fear was that if Ward left, the museum would be orphaned."
And so it has been, with Bloomberg, who heads the museum's foundation, and Cuomo, publicly bickering over cost overruns at and control of the site.
Bloomberg alternates between being carefully diplomatic and publicly nettled about the whole thing. In his most recent comments on the matter, his irritation got the better of him.
"[I]t's really the Port Authority that has got to get going here," the mayor said.
He urged Cuomo, and Governor Chris Christie, who share control of the authority, "to get together and say to the Port Authority, 'Come on, let's get serious.' This project is not over budget. And it has to get done for the region and for America."
UPDATE: Here's a statement from an Esquire spokesperson:
Esquire Writer at Large Scott Raab has exhaustively chronicled the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site for the last seven years. His eight-part series is the definitive chronicle of one of the most ambitious construction projects in history. His sourcing and analysis have been impeccable throughout, and Esquire firmly stands by his reporting now, including the exchange reported in the September issue between the current governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, and former governor George Pataki.