SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

September 11, 2012

At ground zero, can there be a politics-free 9/11?

(Continued)

But in July, the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum — led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg as its board chairman — announced that this year’s version would include only relatives reading victims’ names. Politicians still may attend.

The point, memorial President Joe Daniels said, was “honoring the victims and their families in a way free of politics” in an election year.

“You always want to change,” Bloomberg said in a radio interview in July, “... and I think it’ll be very moving.”

The move came amid friction between the memorial foundation and the governors of New York and New Jersey over progress on the memorial museum. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, have signaled their displeasure by calling on federal officials to give the memorial a financial and technical hand.

Some victims’ relatives see the no-politicians anniversary ceremony as retaliation. Both states’ governors have traditionally been invited to participate.

“Banning the governors of New York and New Jersey from speaking is the ultimate political decision,” said one relatives’ group, led by retired Deputy fire Chief Jim Riches. His firefighter son and namesake was killed responding to the burning World Trade Center.

To Riches, political leaders’ presence shows a nation’s respect and recognizes their role in passing laws that aided victims’ families and people sickened by working at ground zero.

With politicians excluded, “the 9/11 families are having to turn their backs on the people who helped us so much,” he said.

Spokesmen for Christie and Cuomo said the governors were fine with the memorial organizers’ decision.

For former New York Gov. George Pataki, the change ends a 10-year experience that was deeply personal even as it reflected his political role. He was governor at the time of the attacks.

“As the names are read out, I just listen and have great memories of people who I knew very well who were on that list of names. It was very emotional,” Pataki reflected by phone last week. Among his friends who were killed was Neil Levin, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

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