Can There be a Politics-Free 9/11 at Ground Zero?

For the first time, elected officials won't speak Tuesday at the ceremony at ground zero.


"As the names are read out, I just listen and have great memories of people who I knew very well who were on that list of names. It was very emotional," Pataki reflected by phone last week. Among his friends who were killed was Neil Levin, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

But Pataki supports the decision not to have government figures speak.

"It's time to take the next step, which is simply to continue to pay tribute," said Pataki, who expects he'll continue to attend.

Of course, it's difficult to remember 9/11 without remembering its impact on the nation's political narrative. As both an event and a symbol, it's "seared into the American social and political psyche, with profound consequences," says Baruch College political science professor Douglas Muzzio.

And from the start, the anniversary has been a flashpoint for accusations of playing politics with Sept. 11.

The first anniversary engendered political flaps from New York to Pikeville, Ky. New York Republicans said a Democratic television ad featuring the Gettysburg Address was aimed at upstaging Pataki's ground zero reading from the same text. In Pikeville, a judicial candidate complained when the incumbent was tapped to sing at the Sept. 11 ceremony in the town of roughly 7,000; organizers let the judge perform, anyway.

When Republicans scheduled their 2004 national convention in New York City less than two weeks before the anniversary, some victims' relatives accused the GOP of using Sept. 11 as a political backdrop. And some family members and firefighters objected that former Mayor Rudy Giuliani would bring politics into the ceremony by participating in 2007, when he was a Republican presidential candidate. Giuliani ultimately made brief remarks.

"I've tried very hard not to politicize Sept. 11, particularly around the time of 9/11, but it's almost impossible not to be criticized for politicizing it because it's a political event," Giuliani told the news website Politico last year.

Several family members sent a political message of their own as they read names at the 2005 ground zero ceremony, calling for a fitting memorial amid a fight over a then-planned "freedom museum" that some said would politicize the site. And the 2010 anniversary unfolded amid protests and counterprotests over a proposed mosque near ground zero, as well as a furor over a Florida minister's ultimately canceled plan to burn copies of the Quran.

Charles G. Wolf feels it's time to take political voices out of the anniversary this year. He thinks that the public's connection to Sept. 11 has changed, and that the ceremony should, too.

"We've gone past that deep, collective public grief," says Wolf, whose wife, Katherine, was killed at the trade center. "And the fact that the politicians will not be involved, to me, makes it more intimate, for the families.

"I think that the politicians don't need to be there, personally. ... It can be just us. That's the way that it can be now."

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