A year after the attacks of 9/11, NewsMax met with Gov. Pataki at his executive offices in Manhattan. In a wide-ranging interview, Pataki expressed his heartfelt feelings for New York and a nation that had been brought together. Here are some excerpts.
NewsMax: Governor, what was your immediate reaction when you heard a jet had hit the World Trade Center? What were you doing at that moment?
Gov. Pataki: I was here. Just by coincidence, I was in the city. My daughter, who was working at Bloomberg News Media, called up and said, “Turn on the TV.”
NewsMax: Was terrorism your first thought?
Gov. Pataki: Not at all. Not until the second plane hit. Then we immediately knew that this was a concerted effort to attack New York. We didn’t know at the time it was an effort to attack the nation.
I immediately called Mayor Giuliani and I was able to get hold of him. I let him know that I was here and whatever the state could do to help with a response we would do. And we agreed that I would call the president. I called the president right away, and I got him in Florida at his education conference. I asked him to close down the air space over New York. And he, of course, closed down the air space over America. And then I couldn’t communicate with the mayor for the next few hours, because his command center collapsed and he was trapped in the basement of the building.
NewsMax: What was your immediate reaction?
Gov. Pataki: My reaction was the reaction of so many New Yorkers — to go down to Ground Zero. After I’d spoken with the president, after we’d activated the command center and started mobilizing the National Guard, we tried to go down to Ground Zero, but we couldn’t get there because the towers had collapsed. And so instead, I visited some of the hospitals, visited some of the workers and walked the streets of Lower Manhattan.
I’ll tell you, it was just incredibly inspiring. I’ll never forget walking up and down a block not far from Ground Zero, and people were lined up, standing in the street the entire block. And this was a time of great uncertainty. The towers had come down, the Pentagon had been attacked, the plane had gone down in Pennsylvania. We had no idea what might come next.
And people were lined up, not to get the bus uptown and not to get the subway out of town, but to give blood. At a moment of enormous uncertainty and fear, New Yorkers responded with tremendous courage. And that was just typical.
NewsMax: Was there ever a concern your life might be in jeopardy?
Gov. Pataki: No, I wasn’t concerned. It was interesting, though. This is the one time I disobeyed my State Police Security Detail. They are in charge of my personal security, and I never question their reasons for making decisions. But they said: “You should leave and go to Albany,” which is where our 24-hour emergency command center is located. I just said: “No, I’m not going to do that. I have to stay here.”
NewsMax: How did this event change the city? How did it change you personally?
Gov. Pataki: I think we all have a stronger awareness of what unites us, what brings us together as Americans, what is truly is important.
NewsMax: How well is New York recovering — emotionally, financially and otherwise?
Gov. Pataki: I think the spirit of the people is tremendous. And we’re making progress with billions in infrastructure investment and moving forward with plans and discussions as to how the rebuilding should go forward. All of that is obviously very important.
We’ve gotten global giants like American Express and Merrill Lynch and the Bank of New York all to go back to their damaged operations in Lower Manhattan, which is extremely important. But clearly, the single most important thing is the spirit of the people. And New Yorkers just feel very proud, and feel very confident of the future.
NewsMax: New York and Washing-ton, D.C., are considered high-level targets for future attacks. What steps are you taking? Do these worries keep you up at and night?
Gov. Pataki: We know that America is at war and New York is a target in that war. We’ve been targeted, and we have no reason not to expect that in the future we could be targeted again. So we have to be prepared to respond, and we are.
But more importantly, we have to be proactive in doing everything in our power to prevent those attacks in the first place. And we are being extremely aggressive.
So you have to be vigilant, you have to be concerned. We are at war. And we will be at a heightened state of alert and awareness at least for the foreseeable future.
NewsMax: How do you feel about the president’s response to the disaster and how he handled the aftermath?
Gov. Pataki: I think the president responded magnificently. You could not have asked for a better response. I talked to the president on Air Force One when he was flying west, and then I talked to him time and again as we were going through this. And everything that we requested was done immediately.
And probably as important as the financial support and the actual government actions that were taken to help New York was the president’s courage in coming here three days after September 11 and spending virtually an entire day. I personally asked the president to come. And I know that his security people were very reluctant to have the president in New York City.
We still didn’t know what might happen next. And the president just said, “I’m going.” And he came three days later, at a time when emergency service workers, the firefighters and the construction workers were really beginning to run out of gas. They had been going on adrenaline for three days straight with no rest. And the fact that the president went to Ground Zero, spent hours there talking with the emergency workers, was an incredible boost to the morale of the workers.
So his response, from the standpoint of New York, has been just heroic and we couldn’t have asked for any greater leadership.
NewsMax: People around the country had sort of a love/hate relationship with New York before 9/11. Has that changed?
Gov. Pataki: I think there’s a totally different feeling toward New York in the rest of America now. We’ve seen it in the tremendous compassion that Americans from across the country and from every walk of life have provided. In fact, September 12, September 13, one of our biggest problems was dealing with the thousands of volunteers who came here from across America just wanting to help, because we had to control access to Lower Manhattan and access to Ground Zero. And we couldn’t just turn loose waves of well-intentioned volunteers.
There’s the story of Gene Flood, who was an ironworker on the Triborough Bridge right up here. And he had an ironworking rig. And they saw the towers get hit, and they saw the towers come down. And they didn’t say, “My God, I’ve got to get out of New York, I gotta go home.” They said: “We’re ironworkers. People are going to have to cut through that rubble to save lives.” They commandeered the rig and took it to Ground Zero. And Gene didn’t leave. From September 11 he was there every day until January 10, when I finally got him to come to Albany so I could recognize him in the State of the State address for what he had done.
And so, from every walk of life, from every ethnic, racial background, New Yorkers came together with unbelievable heroism. And you know, the message to the rest of the country is maybe we talk too fast at times, maybe we’re a very opinionated people, but when the crisis comes, there are no stronger people, no people more willing to sacrifice and stand together in defense of America and defense of our freedom than New Yorkers. And I think we showed the country.
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