Congressman Gary Ackerman: Recovering in New York
Congressman Gary Ackerman is serving his tenth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Born in Brooklyn, Ackerman now represents the same district in which he grew up. Ackerman has been in Congress since 1983, and is known for sporting a white carnation boutonniere each day. CNN: Greetings and welcome, Congressman Gary Ackerman. Thank you for being with us today.
CNN: I just want to say hello to everyone in the chatroom. I'm very happy to greet you even in this medium. CHAT PARTICIPANT: How is the morale of the rescue workers after working through the World Trade Center wreckage all these weeks and the hopes of finding anyone alive gone to nil?
CNN: To be sure they are very disappointed, but they have known from the beginning that it would be an uphill battle and the chances of finding anyone would be remote. I think the record is finding someone 12 days after the event. So they were hoping to find someone. They were buoyed up by the assistance and encouragement from people who showed up with sandwiches and water bottles who came out when they took breaks. But to be sure, like the rest of us, it was a big disappointment that we were unable to find additional people who may still be alive. I was actually there with President Bush when he toured the site a couple days after the tragic event. The people who were gathering along the way were solidly behind the president, and this isn't a city in which the president received a large percentage of the vote. Nonetheless, there was unanimous outpouring of support from the people. It was absolutely wonderful.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Is the site still dangerous? Or is it much safer for the workers now?
CNN: The site remains extremely dangerous. People should understand that you can't appreciate the enormity of it by looking at pictures. When you stand there you are absolutely dwarfed by the pile of debris that stands about seven stories tall. People should be aware that this is a crime scene, not a tourist attraction. Don't come down there to take pictures and don't bring your children. My guess is that it will take the better part of a year to clean it up.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: What do you see in the future of New York as far as what is going in place of the buildings?
CNN: We're not entirely sure yet. We aren't up to that yet. As we wind down the rescue movements and turn it into recovery, we can begin thinking about that. There are some suggestions. Some think we should build it the way it was -- even one story higher. Some say a memorial park. Some say shorter buildings. I think we can do a combination. There will definitely be some memorial on the site. Whether it takes the entire site remains to be seen. There will be some building plus a memorial, the design of which will be acceptable to most people.
CNN: When did you meet with President Bush and what can you tell us about that meeting?
CNN: It was right after he had proposed the $20 billion to help with the effort. We met right afterwards. We asked for and he agreed to an additional $20 billion. That's a total of $40 billion now.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Rep. Ackerman, how is that $40 billion to be earmarked?
CNN: The use of the money is varied. The first $20 billion is different. It is not earmarked for New York and the region, but in general to fight terrorism. The second $20 billion is directed to New York and the tri-state area to aid the victims, the rescue efforts, to help in the clean-up, to be used to rebuild any of the destroyed infrastructure and transportation. In addition, it will be used for the investigation to better secure our airports, other additional security and for the fight against terrorism.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: What will the impact of this be on New York State tax-payers? Will there be funds for unemployment claims?
CNN: We're not sure what the total impact is going to be financially. There were a lot of people who were unfortunately killed from other states as well. There is no real estimate on what that will be, but the New York taxpayers won't bear the brunt of the whole thing because the federal government will help. None of the $40 billion will be used for rebuilding... we are not up that part yet. We have to find out how much is covered by insurance. The airline industry is very important to New York City and New York State. We passed an aid package this week to help bail out the airline industry so we can begin getting back to normal. There will be an economic impact of course. We have seen it affect Broadway, the taxi and limousine industry, the food industry. The economic effect goes throughout the entire area.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Who actually owned the twin towers?
CNN: There is an individual who owns it corporately, Larry Silverstein. It is managed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Gary, I read your plan to introduce legislation to create a WTC center stamp. Will the families of victims have any input as to design?
CNN: No, not into the design. The design is decided by the postmaster general who has a citizen's design committee. The revenue after the cost of postage will go to families of the rescue workers, the heroes. The stamp will cost 45 cents, 11 cents above first class. The people will still have the option of buying regular 34 cent stamps of course. First we have to pass the bill. We are hopeful to get it through the House soon. The post office takes a year to get a new stamp to Market, but we would like to get this thing passed in a matter of months.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Rudy Giuliani talked today about people going to some of the funerals and memorial services for the firemen and cops who lost their lives at the WTC. Is there a Web site or a phone number we can call to find out where they are so we can attend?
CNN: We have on our Web site numbers that refer them to the various city agencies, but I don't know if any have funerals. Check with the New York Newspapers, which have been listing funerals for police and fire officers who were killed in the action. You can get the referral numbers from our Web site, www.house.gov/ackerman.
CNN: Do you have any final thoughts for us today?
CNN: The New York delegation in Washington has been as if we were the walking wounded. And we have been encouraged by our congressional colleagues from across the country who have been expressing condolences from their constituents. And we have been moved and touched as they tell us that New York has shown America and the world how to courageously respond to an unthinkable disaster. And we are very proud of the people of New York.
CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Congressman Gary Ackerman.
CNN: I just want to say that I very much enjoyed chatting with you. I'm sorry we couldn't chat even more. But it is very interesting in this new world of ours to conduct a town hall meeting in cyberspace -- something our founding fathers could never have anticipated.
Rep. Ackerman joined CNN.com via telephone from New York. CNN provided a typist. This is an edited transcript of the interview on Friday, September 28, 2001.
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