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Terror Trial Decision: Many Reasons Behind the Reversal

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There’s plenty of speculation today about what ultimately caused the Obama Administration to reverse plans to hold the 9/11 terror trial in Lower Manhattan. No question about it: the dramatic decision represented a big victory for neighborhood activism. But, as the New York Times makes clear today, there were other forces at play:

After a dinner in New York on Dec. 14, Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, pulled aside David Axelrod, President Obama’s closest adviser, to convey an urgent plea: move the 9/11 trial out of Manhattan…. Mr. Spinola said he had received calls and e-mail messages from the board’s members. Residential real estate brokers were “going berserk,” as he put it, worried that they would no longer be able to sell apartments downtown. Commercial brokers feared they would not be able to lease office space…

A turning point came when (Police Commissioner Ray) Kelly spoke before a large business crowd at a New York Police Foundation breakfast on Jan. 13. After addressing the year’s highlights in crime reduction, he turned to the 9/11 trials, offering a presentation that was direct and graphic. “Whatever the merits of holding the trial in Lower Manhattan,” he said, “it will certainly raise the level of threat.” … He offered a detailed account of his department’s security plan, with inner and outer perimeters, unannounced vehicle checkpoints, countersniper teams on rooftops, and hazardous-materials and bomb squad personnel ready to respond. And he cited the hundreds of millions it would cost to protect the city. “The entire audience issued a collective gasp when it became clear that this was an event that could go on for years,” said one guest, Kathryn S. Wylde, president and chief executive of the Partnership for New York City. The unhappiness grew. During the Real Estate Board of New York’s annual gala, held on Jan. 21, (Mayor) Bloomberg dropped by, and Bloomberg officials said they got “an earful on that” from real estate executives, all of whom were angry about the plan. A week later, his public opinion had changed, and so, it seems, had the ultimate destination of the trials.

In the last 10 days, the entire political establishment downtown lined up against the trial plan. but in this morning’s Daily News, Kelly asserted that Bloomberg’s mid-week reversal was decisive:

Before last night’s decision was apparent, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly credited Bloomberg with derailing the plan. “Political leaders were concerned about it, but it wasn’t until the mayor made that statement that the White House reacted,” Kelly said. “It’s the right decision for the city.”

Bloomberg’s letter to the Justice Department earlier this month, Kelly said, made a big impact (Washington Post):

“The investment that the department would have to make … and the details of the plan itself, how it would’ve impacted the traffic in lower Manhattan,” he told reporters Friday. “That was the first time they heard it in one fell swoop, so to speak, and it raised their concerns.”

But the government appears ready to spend that money wherever the trial is held, the Associated Press reports:

The Obama administration is proposing a $200 million fund to help pay for security costs in cities hosting the trials of accused terrorists such as Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. A congressional aide familiar with the plan says the money will be included in the president’s budget being release Monday.

An official announcement about the decision to move the trial is also expected as early as Monday.

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