Rebuilding amid GOP speeches

Attacks: As Republicans held their convention in Midtown, work was under way on a structure at Ground Zero.

September 05, 2004|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

NEW YORK — NEW YORK

Barely a week before the third anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Republican Party concluded its national convention here as a memorial to the tragic day - and as a tribute to President Bush's leadership of the war on terror as the chief argument for his re-election.

As speech after speech at Midtown's Madison Square Garden lauded Bush's decisive response to the attacks, jackhammers pounded away at the devastated downtown site in the long task of building a new edifice.

That monumental effort has barely begun. Only the resurrected subway and commuter train station in the bowels of the huge cavity are visible to curious gawkers via a see-through protective wall around what is still known as Ground Zero.

The new World Trade Center PATH Station, named after the tube that runs to New Jersey, is a glistening work of chrome and silver metal - the first step in, as the city authorities put it, "Remembering, Reconnecting, Rebuilding - Beginning a New Era for Lower Manhattan."

Elsewhere in the gaping hole, torn remnants of what had been there can be seen, along with great piles of timber, cement roadblocks and assorted other construction materials for the massive reconstruction effort. Several adjacent skycrapers are also being restored.

The last time I had seen the crater was shortly after the two hijacked planes pounded into the twin towers, pulverizing them and blanketing everything within blocks with thick and choking ash and soot. Shops in the area were left ankle-deep in the stuff, requiring store owners to shovel out as if they had been hit by a blinding gray snowstorm.

Today, although the environs of Ground Zero are back in business, business is not great for some, such as Nalinee Edwards, behind the counter of Corbett and Conley, a tiny deli off Liberty Street in the shadow of the destruction.

Plenty of tourists have come here, she says, but customers have been driven off by the mess and the noise. Still, she and her co-workers persevere "because this is our business. We have no other choice," she says. "I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will get better."

Around the corner, facing directly on the huge hole, the now-famous "Tenhouse" firetruck pulls out of Engine No. 10, Ladder No. 10 station, the first to respond when the planes hit. Six members perished. The truck bears a memorial mural on its side and an American flag flapping from its rear as it heads out on a more routine duty run.

The site has taken on particular notoriety now, nearly three years after the man-made disaster, amid Democratic complaints about the Republican Party's decision to hold its national convention in New York at precisely this time.

Party conventions traditionally have been held in July or August. This one opened only two days before the start of September and ended only eight days before the 9/11 anniversary, obviously timed to dovetail with the convention's trumpeting of nominee George W. Bush's leadership against terrorism.

It is the quality of that leadership that is at the core of the public and political debate on whether he should be re-elected in November or Democratic nominee John Kerry's own positions on Bush's war in Iraq offer an alternative acceptable to the voters.

Just as the Democrats at their convention in Boston used Kerry's Vietnam War record to bolster his prospects, the Republicans did not shy from reminding voters on the eve of 9/11's third anniversary of how President Bush rallied the nation after that historic event.

One delegate visiting the site, Republican state Rep. Ron Wait of Belvidere, Ill., gazed at the gaping chasm and observed: "This is truly an awesome sight. You saw pictures and everything, but it's a different feeling when you're here in person. I had a good friend who happened to be in the building who fortunately was able to get out just in time."

Wait said he was all for the rebuilding. "I think it's good that they're starting over. They're not going to let the terrorists deter us and stop us in our tracks. We're going to build something here bigger and better than what we had before."

Holding his party's convention in New York at this time, he said, was "very appropriate. It was on George Bush's watch when we first got into this mess. I think he's done a great job, and I think it's only fitting and proper that we come back here and pay our respects to what happened here on 9/11, and also move forward and try to make sure this never happens again."

Noting that the Democrats have met in New York but that this was the first time for the Republicans, Wait said, "I think it's about time. We should have been here before."

Another visitor, Denise Walker, a law student at Indiana University in town for the anti-Bush demonstrations, had a different take.

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