10:38 am Mar. 20, 2013
Chuck Schumer still remembers the day his father took him, when he was five years old, to see the Statue of Liberty.
Yesterday, Schumer announced the statue would finally re-open to visitors on July 4th.
"The opening of the statue is a metaphor that New York is coming back stronger than ever after Sandy," Schumer said on a conference call with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who Schumer affectionately calls "Kenny."
Liberty Island was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, with extensive damage to the walkways, electrical systems and docks that allow several million visitors to see the statue each year.
Schumer, who said he can see the statue from his Brooklyn apartment in the morning, has made re-opening the statue something of a personal crusade since the storm. He held a press conference last month urging the feds to fast-track the restoration of the island, and made sure the $60 billion aid package included a few hundred million dollars for repairs to the island.
To speed up the process, Schumer said, he called his "good friend" Salazar to make sure the statue was ready in time for this year's Independence Day celebrations.
The two were friends when Salazar served as the senator from Colorado, and Schumer said he "urged him not to take this Department of Interior job because I wanted him to stay in the Senate so much."
Salazar said he had visited the island twice since Sandy, and was "very confident" the park would be ready in time for July 4. Asked if it might open before then, Salazar said it was possible, but added, "Our north star is to make sure visitors to the park will be safe and secure."
Schumer cast the re-opening as a boon for New York's tourism industry, saying, "some hoteliers told me that some people had actually canceled their reservation" because the statue was closed.