'When one era ended and another began'

9/11 | New Yorkers and the nation mark a third anniversary of terror

Issue: "2004 Election: Dubyafest," Sept. 11, 2004

New York City of late has called to mind its curmudgeon, grumpy visage of old as frustrated residents and angry protesters decried the GOP partygoers and the security required for the party's just-completed convention. But city fathers hope to regain the sober cohesion once visibly in evidence when they commemorate this weekend the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Bells throughout the city will toll the first moment of silence on Saturday at 8:46 a.m., when the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center three years ago. Three other moments of silence will be observed: at 9:03, when the second plane struck the South Tower; at 9:59, when it fell; and at 10:29, when the North Tower fell.

As in two years past, the names of the terror attacks' 2,749 victims will be read as family members descend a ramp to lay flowers at the lowest point of Ground Zero. This year, the ceremony will be led by parents and grandparents of 9/11 victims, who in pairs will read about 14 names each.

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For the first anniversary, political leaders and various dignitaries read names; last year, children of the victims assumed that role. This year the city asked victims' elders to take the lead "to acknowledge their great sacrifice and thank them for helping all of us to shoulder the loss," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "Parents and grandparents are the foundation of our lives."

For many, the turmoil and tragedy that began that moment remain wounds as open as the craters where the Twin Towers once stood. The city and the New York Port Authority are only this month finalizing an agreement that will give clear title to the super-block known as Ground Zero (the city will own and operate sidewalks and streets to a foot below surface; the Port Authority will take charge of everything else) and allow redevelopment to move forward at the lower Manhattan site.

Election-year politics, moreover, have dominated 9/11 memories. President George Bush showed evident emotion on Sept. 1 as he accepted the endorsement of the city's firefighters union. Wrapping his arms around 9/11 heroes in Queens, he choked up as he recalled standing amidst the World Trade Center wreckage shortly after the attacks. "The truth of the matter is, the inspiration I received from the firefighters on that site is something I'll never forget," he said. "None of us will ever forget that week when one era ended and another began."

But while the 8,600-member Uniformed Firefighters Association handed the president a black fire helmet labeled "Commander in Chief" and its support, the far larger International Association of Fire Fighters has endorsed Sen. John Kerry. Back in Washington both campaigns will tussle over how to capitalize on sweeping reforms suggested by the 9/11 Commission, as proposals for a national intelligence director and other changes are introduced on Capitol Hill. Both parties are looking to broker national security into votes. At the end of a bruising year of debate over the events of Sept. 11, 2001, their challenge will be to honor both the dead and the day when-as the 9/11 Commission report simply sums it-"the nation was unprepared."


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