New York Newsday
April 5, 2004
Mayor: Statue should reopen completely
The Associated Press
A week after Mayor Michael Bloomberg attended a ceremony in which federal officials announced that the Statue of Liberty would remain closed to visitors, he said Monday the statue should be reopened, even if each tourist is escorted by a police officer.
The 118-year-old statue has been closed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for security reasons. "You can't let the terrorists win," the mayor said Monday.
Last week during a news conference at the base of the statue on Liberty Island, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton said that an observation area in the statue's pedestal would be reopened but that the crown, reached via narrow and winding stairs, would remain closed because it cannot accommodate large numbers of people and does not meet local fire, building or safety codes.
Bloomberg, who contributed $100,000 of his own money to help finance upgrades that will allow the pedestal to be reopened this summer, spoke at the press conference but said nothing about the need to allow public access to the national monument.
On Monday, however, the mayor blasted the federal government's decision to close the statue and its plans not to reopen it.
"I didn't think they should close the Statue of Liberty, period," Bloomberg said. "This is a symbol of America. Come on, let's stand up and have some guts. If we have to have the security people there, let's do it, but let's get it open." He said there are ways to provide more security.
"If you have to have a police officer standing next to every single person going in there," he said, "that's a better way to do it."
The New York Times reported Monday that the inspector general of the U.S. Department of the Interior is seeking to determine why the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation launched a $7 million fund-raising campaign for the reopening when it already had a $30 million endowment.
The private foundation's president, Stephen Briganti, did not return a call seeking comment Monday. But he has said the group's policy is not to use its endowment to pay for major projects.
The Times said the statue has been closed so long even as other national monuments have reopened after Sept. 11 because the National Park Service, unsure it wanted to reopen the statue, did not ask Congress for money.
At the press conference last week, Norton said the statue has been closed because an examination of the interior after the World Trade Center attack revealed potential fire and security problems and insufficient exits.
On Monday, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Committee on Finance, and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., sent letters to Norton, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation and interior department Inspector General Earl Devaney, saying the committee intended to investigate the foundation's activities.
"I'm very concerned by reports that are surfacing that it was the foundation's fiscal mismanagement, rather than overarching security concerns, that have caused the delay," Baucus said. "I'm further concerned that the National Park Service did not step forward and ask Congress for help once it became apparent to them that the foundation was failing its mission. If we find that the reports of the foundation turn out to be true, serious action will need to be taken regarding private entities having virtual control over the public's property."
The National Park Service, which operates Liberty Island and the statue, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Monday.
When the pedestal reopens -- possibly in July -- screening procedures, much like those at airports, and a reservation system to reduce long lines will be in place.
Liberty Island was closed for 100 days after Sept. 11, 2001.
Airport-type metal detectors were installed to screen visitors boarding the ferry to the island from lower Manhattan, and the island was then reopened in December 2001.
Since the Sept. 11 attack, the number of visitors to Liberty Island has dropped by 40 percent. Still, more than 4 million people have visited since then.
Copyright 2004 Newsday, Inc.