NEW YORK – When this year’s Sept. 11 anniversary ceremony unfolds at ground zero, the mayor who has helped orchestrate the observances from their start will be watching for his last time in office. And saying nothing.
Over his years as mayor and chairman of the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum, Michael Bloomberg has sometimes tangled with victims’ relatives, religious leaders and other elected officials over an event steeped in symbolism and emotion.
But his administration has largely succeeded at its goal of keeping the commemoration centered on the attacks’ victims and their families and relatively free of political image-making. In that spirit, no politicians – including the mayor – were allowed to speak last year or will be this year.
Memorial organizers expect to take primary responsibility for the ceremony next year and say they plan to continue concentrating the event on victims’ loved ones, even as the forthcoming museum creates a new, broader framework for remembering 9/11.
“As things evolve in the future, the focus on the remembrance is going to stay sacrosanct,” said memorial President Joe Daniels.
At today’s ceremony on the 2-year-old memorial plaza, relatives will again read the names of the nearly 3,000 people who died when hijacked jets crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pa. Readers also will recite the 1993 trade center bombing victims’ names.
At the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, where today’s ceremony will include bell-ringing and wreath-laying, officials gathered Tuesday to mark the start of construction on a visitor center. The Pentagon plans a ceremony this morning for victims’ relatives and survivors of the attacks, with remarks from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other officials, and an afternoon observance for Pentagon workers.
By next year’s anniversary, Bloomberg will be out of office, and the museum is expected to be open beneath the memorial plaza.
While the memorial honors those killed, the museum is intended to present a broader picture of 9/11, including the experiences of survivors and first responders.
But the organizers expect they “will always keep the focus on the families on the anniversary,” Daniels said. “We see ourselves as carrying on a legacy.”
That focus was clear as relatives gathered last September on the tree-laden plaza, with a smaller crowd than in some prior years.
After the throng and fervor that attended the 10th anniversary, “there was something very, very different about it,” said Charles Wolf, whose wife, Katherine, was killed in the trade center’s north tower. “It felt almost cemetery-ish, but not really. It felt natural.”