By Steven Spinola
Lower Manhattan, the entire city, and much of the country were relieved and pleased to learn of the decision by Attorney General Eric Holder that the terror trials for 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others will be held at Guantanamo Bay and not in Lower Manhattan as originally proposed.
This decision, although given reluctantly, demonstrates the power of a combined business and resident voice, a voice that identified real issues, security concerns, and economic impacts on a neighborhood that should not be asked to relive the horror of 9/11.
In late 2009 most New Yorkers, including our top city officials, were told, not asked about the decision to hold these trials in Lower Manhattan. Initially, there were only a few voices that questioned this inappropriate burden on our city.
I am pleased that the Real Estate Board of New York was one of those voices. We, along with Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1 and The Downtown Alliance, immediately raised our legitimate concerns. REBNY spoke directly to Jim Messina, then serving as Deputy Chief of Staff to the President, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and David Axelrod, then serving as a Presidential Advisor. The three organizations lobbied our Washington representatives, State and City Officials and discussed the issue with our Police Commissioner, Ray Kelly.
We then took our campaign to the next level. Community Board 1 took up the question formally and voted to oppose the trial downtown. REBNY put into action our REBNY Action Center and initiated a “Move the Trial” campaign. We asked our membership to notify all of their elected officials of their opposition to this terrible idea.
Our members used our website to express their opposition. REBNY leaders took every opportunity to raise the issue with our elected officials. Downtown Alliance leaders spoke out strongly about the impacts on Lower Manhattan. Downtown is the third largest business center in the country, home to more than 140,000 residents, 315,000 workers in 100 million square feet of office space. Eight million tourists a year visit this historic and thriving community each year.
With the completion of the 9/11 memorial, that number will dramatically rise. To have a terrorist trial taking place during the 10th anniversary just made no sense.
Thank you, Mr. President, for your decision to move the trial out of New York. We will now continue the re-building of the birth place of the greatest city on Earth.
Steven Spinola is president of the Real Estate Board of New York.