Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Grand Illusion

With all the nonsense that the kooks come up with about how Giuliani got warning of the collapse of the towers and didn't tell the first responders, it is easy to ignore more rational criticisms of the mayor's performance that day. In an effort to get as many angles as possible on the events of 9-11, I have been reading The Grand Illusion, by Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins.

I will start out by saying that I do not know whether Barrett & Collins started out with an axe to grind, but it certainly seems that way, so I'd caution the reader to beware of writer bias. And of course your reviewer (that's me) has a bias as well. With that understood, here are the major criticisms of Mayor Giuliani from the book and my personal assessment of the case made:

1. That the Command Center of the Office of Emergency Management should not have been located at WTC-7. This appears to be a valid criticism of the mayor. Nobody's saying that he should have anticipated that the collapse of the two towers would devastate the building, but at the same time, the OEM was not intended to be on the frontlines; it was supposed to be a central command center removed from the action but coordinating efforts. I believe the authors make a bit too much of the potential lives that could have been saved if the response had been perfect. For example, many people in the South Tower above the impact zone were told by 911 operators to stay put until the firemen reached them; had they been told that a stairway was passable some of those might have survived. The point is valid certainly for future events; I am not sure it's fair to blame Giuliani for the lack of centralized knowledge and understanding.

2. That after the 1993 bombing the city and Giuliani more or less ignored the threat to the World Trade Center from terrorism. It may be true, but let's face it, how could they have prepared for the 9-11 attacks on those buildings? And the buildings were under separate (and non-taxpaying) ownership by the Port of Authority for those years.

3. That Giuliani was in a rush to remove the Ground Zero debris before he left office. This seems to be a fair criticism of Giuliani that is repeated elsewhere (specifically in Nine Months at Ground Zero). After 9-11 Giuliani gave the firefighters a couple of months to dig for the bodies of their comrades, but eventually he wanted to cut the number back and took a lot of heat for it.

There are some criticisms that are unfair and indeed preposterous. For example, on page 176, they talk about the broker that Giuliani's team employed to find a location for the Office of Emergency Management:

The broker Diamond's agency assigned for the command center was at a national shop with a tiny New York presence, CB Real Estate Group.

They go on to cite the Republican ties of some of the CB people, with the implication clearly being that Giuliani only chose this "tiny" real estate company because of those connections. Of course, CB Real Estate Group was and is (under its current name of CB Richard Ellis) the largest commercial real estate broker in the US. Its "tiny" presence in New York includes 26 offices in the Tri-State Area (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut), including at least 15 within New York City.

CTers should have a field day with the claims on pages 177-179. That is, if any of them actually reads a book. It is noted that ironically, Rudy Giuliani had emptied out much of WTC 7 with his pursuit of brokers at Drexel, Burnham, Lambert, putting that company out of business and costing Silverstein his lead tenant. But fortunately the GSA stepped in:

But happily for Silverstein, during Diamond's tenure at the General Services Administration, nine federal agencies took space in the building, agreeing to pay rents that were often an overpriced embarrassment....Despite a dramatic downturn in the real estate market, Diamond's agency was paying $56 and $59 a square foot at the same time that city officials were quoted in news stories saying that they were getting nearby office space for $17.50.

There is no footnote on that claim, and of course office space can be dramatically different in quality, especially in New York where there are so many very old buildings. I'd guess that the market rent for the quality of building like WTC 7 was probably in the mid $50s vicinity.

But Silverstein and Giuliani were apparently not buddies:

"When I brought up Silverstein's name, Rudy called him a son-of-a-bitch," said Hauer. "I asked, are we okay in doing this? He said, go ahead. Work with Diamond."

It turns out that Silverstein had supported Mayor Ed Koch in 1989, including an illegal $25,000 donation that had to be returned. Ironically Koch was defeated in the primaries by David Dinkins, who narrowly beat Giuliani in the general election. In 1993, Giuliani sought Silverstein's support but Larry's daughter, who is reportedly gay, was distressed by Rudy's support for the St. Patrick's Day Parade's refusal to allow gay groups to march in the parade.

However, after Rudy's election, Silverstein began donating to Giuliani and the Republicans. No fool he; he may not have been buddies with Rudy, but he knew better than to become an enemy of City Hall.

I'm skimming the rest to see if there's anything interesting and will update as needed.

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