On 9/11, Bloomberg Considers The Constitution
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
The first bell rang out at 8:46 a.m. in New York City, nine years to the moment that the nation was attacked.
(Soundbite of bell ringing)
SIMON: Three bells followed during the morning. They marked the moments when the second of two hijacked airplanes hit the World Trade Center, when another plane struck the Pentagon, and when a fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
The victims of those attacks were remembered today at official ceremonies at all three sites. New York City's Mayor Michael Bloomberg was among the mourners at Ground Zero. We spoke with him earlier today from lower Manhattan before the ceremonies began.
Mayor Bloomberg, thanks so much for being with us.
Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (New York City): Happy to be here. It's a sad day, but a day of hope, I think, for the future as well.
SIMON: There've been so many controversies leading up to today, between the proposed Islamic Center there in lower Manhattan, the threatened burning of Qurans in Florida. Have 9/11 commemorations become politicized?
Mayor BLOOMBERG: I think that a lot of it has become politicized. The whole issue of the Islamic center, which was proposed a while ago and nobody seemed to have any problems with it, all of a sudden in the middle of an election campaign became something that the candidates can't stop talking about. It's pretty hard to argue that they aren't trying to make something out of this for their own political gain. And that will go away after the November election.
The real issue here is history will look back and say, did we have the courage to stand up for the Constitution and keep us free going forward? The government shouldn't be involved in telling people who to pray to, where to pray, how to pray, who's going to fund their praying.
And I think that hopefully we'll be able to look back and say that, you know, a few people were a little bit of hotheads, a few people tried to take advantage of it, but in the end America understood that the Constitution has protected us for a long time and if we don't protect other people's rights, we're not going to have our rights.
SIMON: Your support of the right of the Islamic center to open being noted, if the people who run the Islamic center on their own decided to move it, would you be relieved?
Mayor BLOOMBERG: The government should not be relieved or whatever - concerned, I guess, that they have a right to build a place of worship any place that's zoned for that kind of activity. This place is. And it's totally up to them. And if the government starts expressing a view of concern or relief, that's just the government trying to influence a decision which it should not.
SIMON: Mr. Mayor, how do you think New York has changed over the past nine years after the attacks?
Mayor BLOOMBERG: I think New York a little bit - had a little bit of an arrogance that we were New York. And then 9/11, when the rest of the country and the world came to our aid, I think that broadened the minds a little bit of New Yorkers, and also told a lot of people around the country that, you know, New Yorkers may be different but they're not, they're not crazy and they're part of America. It's different parts of America.
I think, you know, you can go to some - a tiny Midwestern town and it's a great life and there are great people and they are real Americans. And in many senses they have exactly the same values that we have here in a big city. We want to be able to say what we want to say, pray the way we want to pray, be in charge of our own destiny, make a good living, have the good things for - that America has given us and make sure that our kids have an even better life.
And clearly going through an economic struggle like we are right now, those things are - I don't think questioned, but are more difficult. And we're going to just have to work harder.
SIMON: Mr. Mayor, did you lose friends on that day nine years ago?
Mayor BLOOMBERG: I, you know, I looked through the list and the sons of a few friends of mine were lost. And I had three employees of my company who were on the 102nd floor and did not get out. I didn't know the three, but I later on got to know their families, and it's just very tragic.
Nothing you can ever say to a parent can really comfort them sufficiently for losing a child. It's just the not - we're all going to die, but it's just not the natural order.
SIMON: Mr. Mayor, there are nine-year-old youngsters today in the Bronx, or for that matter Boise, Idaho, who have no memory of that day.
Mayor BLOOMBERG: It's up to - that's the whole purpose of the museum and memorial, to remind Americans and the world that freedom is something that some people constantly want to take away from us. We can't cave it. We have to stand up. And that's why things like defending the Constitution are so important, particularly when it's so close to the World Trade Center. I keep thinking, you know, how ironic it is that there's a question as to whether or not the Constitution should be followed right by a place where 2,900 people were killed because the Constitution gave us rights that others didn't like.
SIMON: The mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg. Thanks so much for being with us today.
Mayor BLOOMBERG: You're welcome.