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Giuliani, 9/11 and the Emergency Command Center, Continued

By Sewell Chan
May 15, 2007 5:39 pm May 15, 2007 5:39 pm

Joseph J. Lhota, who was a deputy mayor and top aide during Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s two terms, said this afternoon that it was preposterous for Jerome M. Hauer to deny responsibility for the recommendation to place the city’s emergency operations center in 7 World Trade Center, which was destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001.

The controversy has exposed the bitter rift between Mr. Hauer and Mr. Giuliani, who hired Mr. Hauer to be the first director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management, from 1996 to 2000. The two men eventually had a public falling-out, and in 2001, Mr. Hauer endorsed Mark Green, a Democrat, in Mr. Green’s unsuccessful bid to succeed Mr. Giuliani, a Republican.

On Sunday, Mr. Giuliani told Fox News Channel that the decision to house the Office of Emergency Management’s command center at 7 World Trade Center was based largely on the recommendation of Mr. Hauer.

Today, Lloyd Grove of Daily Intelligencer reported that Mr. Hauer had written a memo in February 1996 to Peter J. Powers, then the first deputy mayor, recommending the MetroTech Center in Downtown Brooklyn as the best site for the command center. Mr. Hauer said that he had been told by Dennison Young Jr., a top aide to Mr. Giuliani, that the mayor would not accept a Brooklyn location.

A copy of the Feb. 14, 1996, memo [pdf] obtained by The Times lists 8 “pros” and 6 “cons” for the MetroTech Center. No. 3 on the list of pros is: “The building is secure and not as visible a target as buildings in Lower Manhattan.”

In an interview today, Mr. Lhota, who was finance commissioner, budget director and then a deputy mayor under Mr. Giuliani, said the memo was prepared just after Mr. Hauer joined the city — and many months before Mr. Hauer ultimately decided to recommend the World Trade Center site.

Mr. Lhota said that “numerous sites were looked at over a period of time” during lengthy discussions about where to put the command center.

Although Mr. Lhota could not recall the precise date, he said he attended a meeting at which representatives of the Office of Emergency Management, the Mayor’s Office of Operations and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services came together.

“I was in the room when Jerry Hauer made the recommendation, after the evaluation of all the sites, that the place that was the best to locate the facility was on the 23rd floor of 7 World Trade Center, a building that housed numerous law enforcement agencies,” Mr. Lhota said in a phone interview. “I remember that meeting as clear as can be. That meeting included numerous commissioners, and the mayor himself.”

The Times reported plans to build the command center — derided by some as a bunker — in June 1998. A June 1999 article about the opening of the the $13 million command center, by Judith Miller of The Times, stated, in part:

Asked about the center’s location in the World Trade Center, in a building across the street from the site of the 1993 terrorist bombing that killed six people, Mr. Hauer, who is director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management, said the location was chosen after a study of some 50 alternative sites. The complex now has tight security and is close to the Mayor’s office, the Police and Fire Departments and the headquarters of other high city officials, he said, adding that in the event of an emergency, personnel would want to reach the center on foot.

Mr. Lhota said today, “Jerry made the recommendation, and you know what? He made the right recommendation.”

Mr. Lhota noted that 7 World Trade Center already housed several federal law enforcement agencies and was in easy walking distance of major city agencies headquartered in Lower Manhattan. The building was also relatively new and had backup power and advanced communications capabilities. It was seen as hurricane- and blast-proof. The 23rd floor, Mr. Lhota added, was empty and available and free of columns, giving it the feeling of an open “trading floor” where officials could interact with each other easily during an emergency.

“Jerry was the prime proponent of the building,” Mr. Lhota said. “It was the right choice.”

However, many officials have since said that the decision was not the right choice.

Richard J. Sheirer, Mr. Hauer’s successor, testified before the 9/11 Commission that the command center should not have been located in a skyscraper and suggested that the blame lay with Mr. Hauer.

But in June 2004, Newsday reported:

[S]peaking separately to reporters after their testimony, Giuliani and Hauer were consistent in their accounts of how the command center came to be removed from 1 Police Plaza in 1996 and put in leased space at 7 WTC.

Both said Hauer and other mayoral aides drove the decision, but Giuliani guided them and ultimately made the choice. He had directed Hauer to find a place close to City Hall. Underground facilities were ruled out because of flooding concerns and it was considered ideal that the CIA and Secret Service were already in 7 World Trade Center.

Interestingly, Mr. Giuliani on Sunday never placed the responsibility for the decision entirely on Mr. Hauer’s shoulders. Mr. Hauer has not returned several messages left today on his cellphone and at his consulting business in Virginia. But based on the preponderance of the evidence, it would seem reasonable to conclude that both Mr. Hauer and Mr. Giuliani played a role in the decision to place the command center at 7 World Trade Center.

Angry Giuliani Aide Lashes Back

Rosie O’Donnell’s 9/11 Question [The Lede]