After the shock of the 9/11 attacks, New York Gov. George Pataki was determined not to give in to the terrorists by building anything less than the tallest building ever to go up in America on the site of the destroyed World Trade Center.
That is why he insisted on the 1,776 ft. tall Freedom Tower, now finally rising from the ashes of that terrible day, he tells Newsmax.TV in an exclusive interview.
“I am extremely proud of what is happening at Ground Zero because it wouldn’t have happened if all those who were naysayers or who had different ideas had their way,” said Pataki, the Republican who was in power in Albany at the time of the 2001 attacks.
“From the beginning I knew two things. One is we had to have at the centerpiece, where those towers stood, a memorial to pay tribute to those thousands who died and to the heroes who responded and to show future generations the magnitude of the loss and yet at the same time the courage of those who responded and the true heroism of those who responded that day, ” he said.
“Then I didn’t want to see us either cower in small buildings in fear of another attack as some wanted, or just rebuild what had been there as others wanted.
“I thought we needed to show respect and show confidence in our freedom and our way of life by soaring to new heights and that’s what we will do.
“The Freedom Tower is rising 1.776 feet tall, the tallest building ever built in America, symbolizing our belief in this great country and the whole concept of living in freedom and with the optimism and confidence that a free people are entitled to have about the future.”
Pataki, the three term governor, who was in the Executive Mansion from 1995 to 2006, was in New York City on the day of the attacks, but did not learn of the attacks until he got a phone call from his daughter telling him to turn on the television.
His first thought was to wonder how any pilot could have lost control and hit the tower on such a crystal clear fall day.
“Then I saw the second plane hit and immediately knew we were going to be attacked,” he said.
His first call was to New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, offering all of the state’s emergency resources and his second was to President George W. Bush who was in Florida, asking him to shut down the air space over the city.
“He said he’d already ordered the shut down of the air space over all of America because at that point, we didn’t know what might happen next.”
Pataki described the heroism of the first responders “incredible.”
“That morning, the first thing I did was go down to lower Manhattan once I had all the emergency forces activated and mobilized, preparing to do their utmost to assist.
“I walked the streets to try to calm the people and reassure them. I remember seeing people lined up for a block to give blood at a hospital.
“At St. Luke’s hospital, the gurneys were lined up out on the street with the nurses and the attendants and the doctors waiting for victims to come north from the towers.
“The willingness of New Yorkers from every walk of life as well as, of course, the emergency response forces to risk their lives at a time of great uncertainty and tremendous fear is something that will always stick with me.”
Even now, a decade later, he said he has two competing thoughts whenever he goes to Ground Zero.
“The first is the tremendous sense of loss and sorrow for the thousands we lost and for friends of mine who we lost and for the family members who are suffering so much even now, 10 years later, over the loss of a husband or a wife or a mother or father, just the tragedy on a human scale of that horrible attack.
“But then I also feel tremendous pride at the strength and the courage that the Port Authority played and the firefighters and the NYPD and the construction workers and everyone, New Yorkers, and subsequently Americans from every walk of life, flooding in, not fleeing because they were afraid of another attack but rallying to lower Manhattan to help deal with the consequences of that first horrible attack.
“You can’t help but feel sorrow, but you also have to feel pride about the unity and the strength New Yorkers and Americans showed that day and in the weeks and months after.”
He said Washington could learn a lot from looking back to those dark days of September 2001.
“We had a sense of unity that I’ve never seen in my lifetime before and it made me very proud.
“What superficially seems to divide us: we’re Democrats or Republicans; black or white; rich or poor; young or old, it didn’t matter. We were all Americans living in this great country.
“I wish today we had that same sense of unity, or at least some part of it because it seems, particularly in Washington, that we’ve allowed the divisions to overcome the unity that we should feel in our love of freedom and our love of this great country.”