Volume 74, Number 14 | August 04 - 10 , 2004

Downtown copes with new threat to financial centers

By Elizabeth o’brien

It wasn’t quite business as usual on Monday, as Downtowners went about their routines amid heightened security in response to terror threats against the Citigroup buildings and the New York Stock Exchange.

But many residents and workers greeted the alert with resolve, saying it would not cause them to change their behavior.

“I don’t scare that easily,” said Jessie MacDonald, 73, a resident of Independence Plaza North in Tribeca who, like many Downtowners, witnessed the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

MacDonald was among those who expressed skepticism about the timing of the latest threats, coming as they did just weeks before the Republican National Convention comes to New York and months before the presidential election.

“I guess I’m a Michael Moore fan, but I feel a lot of this is politically motivated,” said Jim Ballard, who has lived Downtown since 1969.

One block from I.P.N., at the Citigroup building — formerly the Traveler’s Building, known for its bright, red umbrella on the side of its facade— on Greenwich St., yellow police tape funneled entering workers into a narrow passageway flanked by two private security guards checking identification outside the building. A worker said that Citigroup employees, who are normally waved past metal detectors after showing ID, had to put their bags through the detectors on Monday. This extra precaution caused a long, unexpected line in the morning, he said.

Several people admitted to some jitters about coming to work.

“I was very scared, very apprehensive, but you have to do what you have to do,” said a 44-year-old administrative coordinator who declined to give her name. “You can’t let them win.”

Others leaned on fate or faith.

“Whatever happens, happens — it’s in God’s hands,” said Jason Palumbo, 32, a trading system worker.

Lee Powell Jr., 19, an intern at Citigroup, said building management had held a few evacuation drills in the two months he had been on the job. On Monday, workers were not given the option of taking the day off, several employees said.

The intense security surrounding potential targets might dissuade any terrorists who had been planning to attack them, some said.

“The element of surprise is what they go for, and this seems like a big media event,” said Keith Bennett, 47, who was visiting from Atlanta and had stopped at Washington Market Park, just south of the Citigroup building. His wife, Cindy, said she would have cancelled or postponed their trip had she known about the terror alerts before they left home.

To augment extra security at the identified terror targets, a new Fire Department rescue squad is protecting Downtown. Rescue Six, which is sharing space with Ladder 20 at 251 Lafayette St. in Soho, was scheduled to debut during the Republican National Convention, but its operations started a few weeks early in response to the latest terror warnings, a F.D.N.Y. spokesperson said. The 25-person company specializes in high-angle and other rescue operations and carries special meters and detectors, the spokesperson said.

Despite these precautions, some decided they’d rather be elsewhere.

Jung Yum Witt, a Battery Park City mother, said she would consider leaving the city permanently if another attack happened.

“This is the best place in Manhattan to be a parent, but it’s not worth it the second time around,” said Witt, whose family lived in the neighborhood on Sept. 11, 2001.

Miriam Branham, a Battery Park City nanny, said her employers gave her a cellphone after Sept. 11, 2001. On Monday, they gave her extra cash and a small pocket radio tuned to the news channel 1010 WINS, Branham said. But her employers did not tell her to restrict where she traveled with their 3-year-old child, she added.

Meanwhile, farther Uptown in the West Village, Roberta Lasky said she would avoid Battery Park City and the Citigroup buildings as a precaution. Lasky said she wasn’t panicking, but simply preferred to stick closer to home in case anything happened.

“I’m in my little, peaceful neighborhood and we’re taking it day by day,” said Lasky, who was playing with her two children at the Bleecker St. playground.

Jo Ashton, 34, a West Village resident, said that while she thought the latest threats might be politically motivated, she nonetheless was glad that her husband works in Westchester and not in Midtown, where Citigroup has another building at 53rd St. and Lexington Ave. Ashton, the mother of an 8-month-old boy, said she and her husband had lived in London, where there were terror threats from the Irish Republican Army.

“I feel more threatened here, but I feel it’s just the media,” Ashton said.

Most people said they were getting accustomed to the heightened terror alert. Irene Vernadakis, 39, a Battery Park City mother, said that Code Orange had become a fact of life: “I guess this is what living in Downtown means these days.”

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