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Tuesday, 2 July, 2002, 23:21 GMT 00:21 UK
Seeking a memorial for New York
The New York skyline before the attacks
The Twin Towers dominated views of Lower Manhattan
The BBC's Matt Wells

Deciding exactly what replaces the fallen giants of the New York skyline was always going to take time, and careful negotiation.

But this week, the city is digesting the most significant statement so far by the man who has more power than anyone else to determine the future of the World Trade Center site.


We will never build where the towers stood

New York Governor George Pataki

New York State Governor George Pataki has been more closely involved with the aftermath of the 11 September attacks (known by Americans as 9/11) than any other leading politician, although former Mayor Rudy Giuliani took the front seat while he remained in office.

For months the governor, a Republican, refused to divulge his own view about what exactly should be done with the "footprints" - the actual sites themselves - of the twin towers.

But, choosing his audience carefully, he has now announced: "We will never build where the towers stood."

Looming election

He was addressing a remembrance ceremony in Manhattan, organised by the Coalition of 9/11 Families - many of whom have been saying for months that the "hallowed ground" must not be built on.

The governor faces a re-election battle this year, and only sceptics suggest that he was playing for votes with his intervention.

But its effect is already being felt throughout the fragile coalition of groups, organisations and companies that is vying to be heard in the planning process for renewal.

The site of the former Twin Towers
Relatives of those killed when the towers collapsed are firmly opposed to building
Urban planning experts hired by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), who are due to deliver six proposals by 20 July, are now under pressure to shelve any ideas which tried to combine a memorial with commercial building on the towers' site.

Governor Pataki's influence is crucial because he set up and controls the whole process.

He created the LMDC, he has authority over all city building, the transport system and the direction of extensive federal funding.

His spokesman Michael McKeon said the governor had only stated his personal view "reluctantly" at this stage.

"He wants to be respectful of the process, and he wants to have an open and inclusive discussion," he said.

Criticism

But Mr Pataki's intervention has already drawn veiled criticism from many establishment figures.

The most powerful Democrat politician in New York City, assembly speaker Sheldon Silver who represents the downtown area, said public discussion has now been limited.


While it was good to see the governor getting passionate about the issue, no options should be precluded at this stage

Building coalition leader Rick Bell
"I don't oppose what the governor said, nor do I oppose it as a possible conclusion of a vigorous public debate.

"But I oppose proceeding with it as if by fiat," he told the New York Times newspaper.

The executive director of the American Institute of Architecture and spokesman for the New York New Visions coalition, Rick Bell, said much still had to be decided.

He said the governor's remarks were only directed at the two acres (8,100 square metres) on which the towers actually stood and there was no need to tear up any plans at this stage

"The public participation process is way too short," he said.

"And while it was good to see the governor getting passionate about the issue, no options should be precluded at this stage."

New York Governor George Pataki
Governor Pataki may be waiting for re-election to make a final decision
There is no doubting Governor Pataki's personal commitment to finding a solution to the dual pressures of a fitting memorial and the need to get downtown New York back on its feet commercially.

On top of shattering lives, a fifth of the area's business space was lost in the attacks and the rail network was smashed.

But one source close to the LMDC told me that even if he was not pitching for votes, the elections did play a part in Mr Pataki's announcement.

"It's no accident that he's said what he's said given the timetable of the November race for governor.

"Politically, he needs to show he is in control and push the process along.

"Once he's re-elected I think we will see the rush to narrow down the options to one scheme by the end of the year fall away."

See also:

31 May 02 | Americas
23 Sep 01 | Americas
16 Apr 02 | Americas
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