The planning for Tuesday’s commemoration of the 2001 terror attacks had become a seemingly familiar standoff. On one side was a vocal core of victims’ relatives threatening to hold their own event because the ceremony would, for the first time, take place not at ground zero but across the street, at Zuccotti Park. On the other, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, accused by the relatives of insensitivity, was holding firm that it was unsafe to allow mourners at what was now an active construction site.
The mayor and the families agreed to a compromise: the ceremony would be held at the park but relatives would still be allowed to descend to the pit where their loved ones perished.
When he took over as mayor in 2002, Bloomberg threw himself into fixing the many pressing problems wrought by the attacks: shoring up the security of a city suddenly at the center of a bull’s-eye; closing the gaping hole in the midst of Lower Manhattan; bolstering a sinking economy suffering the loss of thousands of jobs.
But the mayor has also played an essential if more subtle role in nudging the city to gradually let go of its grief. It is a challenge the mayor has handled sometimes clumsily and sometimes with great sensitivity and eloquence, as he charted the path away from the concrete events of 2001. Now, as he works to imbue the city with optimism for the future, he even hints at a day when remembering may not mean reading the names of all the dead.
“You’re going to have to change to keep it relevant,” Bloomberg said at a news conference Monday when asked about the fact that one television network had originally planned not to broadcast the entire ceremony, which exceeds four hours. “I’ve never been a believer that doing the same thing every time is the best way to accomplish anything.”
Indeed, Bloomberg, who spurns dwelling on the past and prefers to keep his emotions to himself, has been pushing the city from the start to move beyond its tragedy. Early on, he championed building schools and housing at ground zero and suggested that the soaring memorial envisioned by his predecessor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, would turn it into “a cemetery” and drive residents and businesses away.
Bloomberg, who declined to be interviewed for this article, told The New York Times the day before the first anniversary of the attacks: “I think the Jews do it right. They have a headstone unveiling a year after the funeral, and that’s sort of the time that you sort of stop the mourning process and start going forward. And the 9/11 ceremonies, what I’m trying to do is that in the morning we will look back, remember who they were and why they died. And in the evening come out of it looking forward and say, ‘OK, we’re going to go forward.’”
In recent months, that campaign has become more urgent as Bloomberg has taken a more active role in accelerating development at the site, stepping in to break the logjams, muscling his way through the opposition with a conviction that his priorities — getting the project done, leaving a legacy for the future — and values are the right ones.