March 11, 2005 | David Shuster

America's Freedom Tower politics

The blogs we've been posting on the Freedom Tower continue to generate a huge number of e-mails. Every day, I've been receiving articles and stories detailing a host of new engineering problems associated with the current plan for lower manhattan. [Blog: Freedom Tower Vs. Twin Towers; Blog: Rebuild the Twin Towers]

The latest issue concerns a plan by Governor Pataki to sink an eight lane street beneath the proposed Freedom Tower park.There are two problems: First, Verizon says it would need to relocate a massive amount of underground telecom gear in order to clear a path for the tunnel. (Verizon says this move could delay the entire project for two years.) Secondly, the proposed underground construction project would be akin to Boston's "big dig." Only this time, the chaos and mess would be in Lower Manhattan.

I could go on and on. It seems likely that this Freedom Tower project is going to keep a hole in the Manhattan skyline (and thrill Al-Qaeda) for at least a decade. Many of you have said that construction on "newer, stronger, and taller twin towers" should have already begun. To all of you who have been wondering, "Is it too late to scuttle the freedom tower and rebuild the twin towers?" the answer is clearly "No."

One of my contacts recently sent me a copy of the Environmental Impact Statement done a year ago in lower Manhattan. The 30-chapter volume refers to the Freedom Tower as the Proposed Action. But in Chapter 23, the EIS examines a "restoration alternative." This alternative is to "rebuild the Twin Towers." In other words, the environmental impact study for rebuilding the twin towers has already been conducted... a crucial first step. It's also worth noting that the public architectural blueprints and models for a new Twin Towers (architect Ken Gardner at are more detailed than the public blueprints and models for the Freedom Tower put forward by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

Putting all of that aside though, there is a factor that I'm convinced will soon come into play... presidential politics. New York Governor George Pataki (who has always backed the LMDC and the Freedom Tower) has made no secret of his 2008 presidential ambitions. And on the face of it, Pataki could be a formidable candidate.  But imagine what will happen if John McCain holds a news conference, discusses the ongoing problems with the Freedom Tower, speaks about the need for America to stand tall, not weak, and declares that nothing is acceptable other than stronger, taller, Twin Towers. "Under this scenario," a political strategist told me, "Pataki would be dead, absolutely dead." Now imagine if Hillary Rodham Clinton is the first to hold such a news conference. As everybody in the U.S. Senate knows, Mrs. Clinton is preparing for a possible 2008 run by moving to the center, bolstering her standing on red state values issues, and looking for ways to demonstrate leadership and "toughness" on foreign policy issues. On the issue of terrorism, what would be "tougher" than bashing George Pataki's Freedom Tower and demanding, in the name of true freedom from our enemies, that the Twin Towers be rebuilt.

So, where do the possible 2008 presidential contenders stand?

John McCain, I've been told, "is not considering this issue right now." But, I was drawn to the words "right now."

Hillary Rodham Clinton, according to her spokesman, "has not taken a stand on the Freedom project or on the twin towers. The Senator believes lower Manhattan should be rebuilt."  Hmmm. That is not an endorsement of the Freedom Tower. And given that Mrs. Clinton is one of the senators from New York, her withholding of any Freedom Tower endorsement, and her absence from all Freedom Tower events, is revealing.

Will presidential politics be the issue that ignites this debate? How nervous should George Pataki be right now? Who would win this fight?

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