FDNY Union Fires on Freedom Center Plan

August 17, 2005 -- The union representing New York's Bravest yesterday demanded that the controversial International Freedom Center be removed from Ground Zero.

In another blow to the cultural plans for Ground Zero, Uniformed Firefighters Association President Stephen Cassidy said the Freedom Center would "diminish the sacrifices that the 343 members of the FDNY made on 9/11. That is unacceptable."

Cassidy sent a letter announcing the UFA's position to Memorial Foundation director Gretchen Dykstra on July 27, but union officials made it public only yesterday.

"We cannot help but feel that if the International Freedom Center is to be located alongside the memorial, our membership, along with our 9/11 families, will come out strongly in opposition to supporting your foundation," Cassidy wrote.

Gov. Pataki and the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. have been under intense pressure to drop plans to include the Freedom Center and the Drawing Center in a museum building next to the Ground Zero memorial.

Family members of 9/11 victims have blasted the two cultural institutions, saying they could include anti-American exhibits. Instead, the family members have argued for a facility more clearly devoted to the attacks.

Debra Burlingame, whose airline-pilot brother was killed during the 9/11 attacks and who now serves on the foundation board, said the firefighters' announcement is more proof that most Americans don't want a cultural center at Ground Zero.

"This statement on the part of New York's Bravest shows that they share our deepest concerns that the story of what happened that day will be obscured by the International Freedom Center," said Burlingame.

Cassidy said yesterday the union's leaders haven't yet decided what action they will take to block fund-raising by the Memorial Foundation if the IFC is to be a part of Ground Zero.

Pressure from family groups has already put the squeeze on the Freedom Center project.

The proposed building for the facility has been downsized 30 percent and LMDC Chairman John Whitehead has given the IFC until Sept. 23 to come up with specific programming plans. The Drawing Center is already seeking a new site.

"We're deeply saddened that the Uniformed Firefighters Association would withdraw their support for the memorial to honor all those lost on 9/11, including the sacrifice of the firefighters," said foundation spokeswoman Lynn Rasic.

* A dozen families of 9/11 victims will announce a federal lawsuit today against the city over what they claim is the burial of their loved ones' remains at Fresh Kills Landfill, where trade center material was sorted.

The families believe fragments of remains too small to be caught in sifters used to search rubble are still at the landfill and should be buried in a cemetery.