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Council Committees Hold Terror Trial Hearing; No Vote Scheduled on Resolution

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Holding signs saying “no sharpshooters,” “don’t fence us in,” and “don’t make us live through it again,” residents of Chinatown came out in force at City Hall on Friday.  They were there to observe a hearing on the impact of holding the 9/11 terror trials in Lower Manhattan. The meeting was co-chaired by Peter Vallone, head of the Public Safety Committee, and Margaret Chin, the new head of the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Committee.

Chin said the community gets the credit for pressuring the Justice Department to reconsider its decision to hold the trials in Lower Manhattan. “They would not give up,” she said. Chin asked the first witness, Rep. Peter King, when he expected the Administration would announce a final decision.  King, ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, suggested it’s a foregone conclusion the trials will be moved.  Acknowledging that he’s not in “Obama’s inner circle,” King theorized there would be no official announcement until a new location has been chosen.

Later, State Senator Daniel Squadron took his turn at the witness table, urging the Council to stay focused on the”impact on our neighborhoods,”  rather than engaging in an “ideological battle.”   Squadron said Chinatown – having risen to meet many challenges in the aftermath of 9/11 – cannot “have a challenge that will break us.”  Last week, he voted against a resolution in the State Senate calling for a change of venue because it included a clause advocating military trials.

Councilmembers Margaret Chin & Peter Vallone

There’s no doubt the controversy over the trials has put many progressive democrats in an awkward position. At a news conference last week, Chin made it clear she opposes holding the trials in New York City, but like Squadron, wants the terror suspects to be tried in a civilian court. Vallone (a conservative democrat) would personally like to see the trials take place at Guantanamo Bay. On Friday, however, he said it was more important for the Council to focus on getting the trials moved out of the city.

On Friday, Valloine said Council Speaker Christine Quinn had wanted to attend the hearing but had a “last minute scheduling change.”   Last week, several members of the Council introduced a resolution calling for the trials to be moved.  But Quinn has not scheduled the item for a vote, leading to speculation that she is delaying action to give the White House time to announce a new plan. Vallone also noted that the Bloomberg Administration declined to take part in the hearing.

More than one witness told the Council members they opposed language in the resolution asking the federal government to pick up the security costs if, for some reason, the trials are not moved from New York. Noah Pfefferblit of Community Board 1 said it was “a grave mistake” which “implies there are circumstances in which we would accept a trial.” Councilmember Vincent Gentile, who authored the resolution, asked whether there was any amount of money that would make up for imposition of the trials. CB1 Vice Chair Katherine McVay Hughes answer: an emphatic “no.”

There was also testimony from Herman Hewitt of Community Board 3.  The borders of CB1 and CB3 converge at the federal courthouse (500 Pearl Street).  Last month, CB1 passed a resolution calling for a venue change. Hewitt said CB3 would consider a similar resolution at its executive committee meeting next week (see here for more on this part of the story).

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