NEW YORK – Hundreds of construction workers raised a rallying cry of "Build it now!" on Tuesday, gathering with elected officials at the World Trade Center site to urge a quick rebuilding of the complex.
"Instead of a shining American symbol of resilience and strength, we have a hole in the ground," U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney told the crowd. "Rebuilding the towers and ground zero is a moral imperative. Putting 10,000 people to work in the middle of a severe recession is an economic imperative."
The protest comes days before a Friday deadline for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and developer Larry Silverstein to work out a new schedule for rebuilding parts of the site. Construction is under way on 1 World Trade Center, a memorial and a transit hub, but the building of other planned towers has stalled in a dispute over financing.
The authority, which controls the property, wants more private-sector cash for the project than Silverstein has offered and says it's better to delay construction on two of the towers until the real estate market improves.
But with union officials saying 15 to 20 percent of their construction workers are jobless, the hardhat-wearing protesters said they were eager for more work at the site as soon as possible.
"We have people out for 40 weeks before they get a job," said electrician Greg Kapps. "There are a lot of people out."
One protester's sign read: "Don't Forget 9/11: Delay Means Defeat."
U.S. Reps. Anthony Weiner, Peter King, Gregory Meeks, Joseph Crowley and Michael McMahon joined in the rally, as did several city officials. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn yelled to the protesters: "It should have been built already. It is a disgrace."
Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward defended the work already in progress Tuesday, saying that much construction is happening and the authority's rebuilding of the memorial, 1 World Trade Center and public areas has put 1,900 people to work. The agency expects to spend almost $11 billion in the area, he said.
"It's not because of the Port Authority that there hasn't been building," he said. "The Port Authority is not willing to do a public bailout of Larry Silverstein."
"Mr. Silverstein has to get some real money, get some real tenants," Ward said. "That's why you build buildings. You don't build empty buildings as monuments."
Silverstein declined to comment through a spokesman, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has supported the developer, said the Port Authority was blocking Silverstein's efforts to resolve the conflict.
"The Port Authority's not bailing out Silverstein. We have to bail out America. That's an outrageous statement," he said.
Silverstein was supposed to build three office towers at the site but has said the economic downturn and tight credit market had made it impossible for him to secure independent financing.
The authority wants Silverstein to build one tower immediately, then build a second in a few years once he has found a tenant for the building. The space reserved for a third tower would become a public space for an indefinite period, until market demand returns, Ward said.
An analysis done for the Port Authority last year projected that might not be until 2030.