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Local Officials Assess Moving Terror Trial From Lower Manhattan

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The area around Park Row, closed since 9/11, would become an "armed camp" during the downtown terror trial.

There was some hope early yesterday that the upcoming 9/11 terror trial could be moved from Lower Manhattan. But by the time Police Commissioner Ray Kelly went on NY1 last night, the prospects for a new trial venue seemed to have dimmed. Recapping the events of the last few days:

  • On Tuesday, Kelly outlined plans to, as the Daily News put it, “turn most of Lower Manhattan into a heavily armed fortress.” He described a “hard perimeter” surrounding the courthouse (500 Pearl) with bomb squad officers and snipers — and a soft perimeter from the Bowery to Broadway, and from Franklin St. to Canal St.
  • Wednesday night, the executive committee of Community Board 1 called for moving the trial somewhere else. They suggested Governors Island might be a possibility. They planned a vote of the full board this coming Tuesday.
  • During a news conference yesterday morning, Kelly emphasized that the decision about where to hold the trial rests with the federal government. But he added: “We certainly are open to (the Governors Island) suggestion… We understand that the trials can be very disruptive in the Lower Manhattan community and we’re obviously concerned about the threat to the entire city.”
  • By the afternoon, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Councilmembers Margaret Chin and Peter Vallone issued a statement in support of moving the trial and of exploring the Governors Island idea.
  • But in his interview with NY1 last night, Kelly seemed considerably less encouraging than he sounded earlier in the day: “We talked to some federal officials about this, and they seem to think it’s impractical… The federal officials feel that you have to actually build a prison facility there, which would take probably a couple of years. What they don’t want to do is be in a position of transporting these prisoners.” 

This morning, the New York Times calls the move to Governors Island “highly unlikely.”  A Justice department spokesman told the Times, the federal government is “confident that it can safely prosecute this case in the Southern District of New York.”  At Wednesdays CB1 hearing and in protests and interviews in the last several weeks, residents of Chinatown have expressed outrage that the trial is planned in their backyard. Among their top concerns: fears about a new terrorist attack, the impact on local businesses and the prspect of their community becoming an armed camp for many months.

In spite of the discouraging words from Kelly last night, residents and elected officials are sure to press the case all the way to Washington. Just yesterday, Chin became chair of the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Committee. In that role, she will be a key figure in the campaign to get the trial moved. In the Council’s news release, she noted her district office (on Park Row) is “in the middle of the hard security zone,” right across from Police Plaza. Chin made reopening Park Row, closed after 9/11, a major campaign issue. Even before they knew the trial was coming to the neighborhood, Police officials made their opposition to reopening the street abundantly clear.

In building support for a change of venue, residents have been hoping for the help of Senator Chuck Schumer. Julie Menin, the chair of Community Board 1, said in the New York Times: “Mayor Michael Bloomberg and elected officials like Senator Charles Schumer correctly insist that the federal government pay for the entire cost of the trials. However, they have not addressed the central question of whether, in the midst of an economic recession, it makes sense for anyone to spend more than $200 million on security.”

Community Board 1 meets to discuss the issue on Tuesday at 6pm, at the Manhattan Youth Downtown Community Center, 120 Warren Street (at West Street).

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