A Times Editorial
Despite having a sometimes unflattering reputation, New Yorkers displayed courage and spirit this past week that elevated an entire nation.
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2001
After hearing of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center towers, the newspaper Le Monde paraphrased the famous line President John F. Kennedy delivered in divided Berlin. Today, the French paper said, "We are all New Yorkers."
It was a connection all Americans and much of the world felt. In recent days, we have shared the horror and grief of New Yorkers and admired their courage and spirit. We always knew they were tough, and now we know just how tough. This week, New Yorkers have stood taller than any skyscraper in Manhattan's spectacular skyline.
Deserved or not, New Yorkers have a reputation as a pushy, uncaring, obnoxious lot, but in responding to the terrorist assault on their city's landmark towers they have lifted the American spirit above the rubble in lower Manhattan.
The stories of tenacious heroism, personal sacrifice, volunteerism and generosity overflow newspaper pages. Day after day comes another unbelievable tale of people just getting it done -- stockbrokers carrying crippled and injured strangers down dozens of flights of stairs to safety, firefighters running into those impossibly hot towers in an attempt to rescue those stranded on the upper floors, volunteers working for hours digging in the rubble, handful by handful, or standing in line for hours to give blood. Whatever it took, whatever was needed, New Yorkers did it -- some sacrificing their lives in the process.
At the helm of this Team America stands New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who has emerged as not only the man of the hour but the man of every minute.
Giuliani was out front from the start. He flew out of his office toward the first burning trade tower as soon as he heard the news. If his city was under attack, he was going to be at the center of the battle. He was visible and vocal, and he was the calm, confident and reassuring leader the city needed on the darkest day in its history.
Even before the magnitude of the disaster was clear, before the flaming towers collapsed, Giuliani made himself command central, making sure the equipment, emergency workers and supplies were on hand or on their way. He gave the public accurate, timely information, coupled with sincere expressions of anger, anguish and resolve. It was all unscripted, all bursting forth from the instincts of a natural leader. Giuliani may have his blind spots when it comes to putting restraints on police or trying to censor controversial art, but even his detractors have only praise for the mayor in what was indisputably his finest hour.
Then there are the police and firefighters. What heroes they were. What a terrible price they paid doing their jobs. The label "New York's Finest" doesn't begin to describe their courage and selflessness. How many hours can someone work on his or her feet doing punishing physical labor? New York's public servants are testing those limits. They are driven by the faintest hope that someone else might still be alive, under that next pile of concrete, under that next steel girder, somewhere, under their hands. Many of them entered the burning towers to save others and never came out. More than 300 police officers and firefighters are still missing, including entire engine companies.
So what can we say about New Yorkers? After this week's nightmare, we can say with pride and admiration: You've shown you have the right stuff, and the heart to go with it. We love New York not only for what it has done for itself but for the nation.