Volume 78 - Number 31 / December 31, 2008 - January 6, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Deutsche Bank answers
Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau gave us half a loaf last week in his report on the fire at the former Deutsche Bank building. While he began to answer some of the questions officials have been ducking in the 16 months since two firefighters died battling the fire there, he left many critical questions unanswered and implausibly held only lower-level officials criminally accountable.
Morgenthau’s report, unveiled with the indictment of three private contractors on manslaughter charges, makes clear that the building’s owner — the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation — and the city were far more negligent than we could have imagined.
There were several clear, public signs before the deaths that there were problems at the demolition site near the World Trade Center. However, Morgenthau’s team of prosecutors revealed a mountain of evidence of problems that were apparently ignored.
The L.M.D.C.’s leader then and now, Avi Schick, was appointed by then-Governor Spitzer to run the corporation in early 2007. Schick should have reacted to all of the red flags by taking steps to fix the problems at 130 Liberty St. Instead, by all appearances, Schick continued down the dangerous path.
The corporation still withholds information. At a recent advisory meeting on the project, officials did not disclose to community leaders that a 2-foot metal rod fell off the building until someone specifically asked if anything new had fallen off.
Mayor Bloomberg wants to terminate the L.M.D.C, and we think he’s right. The corporation has long outlived its effectiveness, but its horrendous record at Deutsche is reason enough. Governor Paterson, who shares control of the corporation with the city, should end his resistance. We hope Assembly Speaker Sheldon also drops his defense of the corporation.
But phasing out the L.M.D.C. is not enough. The mayor has admitted that his Buildings and Fire departments did not properly monitor the project. With the criminal investigation of the fire ended, Bloomberg has begun investigations into his administration, and we expect to see major shakeups at or near the top of both agencies. There should also be an independent review.
Morgenthau outlined problems with Fire Department supervisors, but blamed low-level Buildings inspectors instead of looking at the top. The Deutsche building had regulators from city, state and federal agencies. It’s not plausible that the problems went undiscovered simply because of “inexperienced” inspectors when there was tremendous public pressure to take the building down quickly.
The problems at Bovis Lend Lease, the general contractor that hired a subcontractor with mob ties, obviously go beyond its site safety manager, who was indicted. Bovis cut corners by not repairing the standpipe, and we still do not know which top executives failed in supervision. Even if these executives did not commit crimes, we should know who they are, given the firm still has the contract.
The civil suits may eventually be able to answer the remaining questions, but the public should not have to rely on private lawyers to get life-and-death information.