Just do not build it!

Just do not build it!

: With short-sighted attempts to distract from the 9/11 memorial with cultural institutions, Gov. Pataki has only built himself a political hole deeper than the empty crater at the World Trade Center.

Pataki and his cohorts are now offending absolutely everyone possible.

The only solution, the only way out, is to do what the families and I have been saying:

Do not build it. Not there.

After the New York Daily News revealed yesterday that the Drawing Center is equally offensive to the International Freedom Center next door, Pataki tried to backpedal. He said he didn’t want either to be “offensive.” But, of course, that offended those who are putting together the exhibits and who now cry free speech. I’ll fly my free-speech flag next to any other, but this is not about free speech — at least, it wasn’t until Pataki stuck his foot in his mouth. It is about the memorial. And so Pataki also offended the families for not going far enough, for not stopping these mistakes.

Pataki can’t win — because he’s a loser.

Gov. George E. Pataki delivered an ultimatum to two important cultural players at ground zero yesterday, demanding “an absolute guarantee” that they would not mount exhibitions that could offend 9/11 families and pilgrims to a proposed memorial nearby.

Now that’s absurd on its face: One cannot give an “absolute guarantee” of offending no one in an age of offense. So right there you see how hopeless his predicament is, a predicament he made for himself when he took over Ground Zero and tried to please everyone, pleasing no one.

The Times can’t even try to be subtle about his vice:

Treading warily into the nexus of art and politics, the First Amendment and the symbolism of the twin towers site, Mr. Pataki made the demand after learning that one of the groups, the Drawing Center, has featured some politically themed and controversial artwork in its shows. A current display at its SoHo gallery, for instance, appears to make light of President Bush’s description of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the Axis of Evil.

While saying that he respected artistic expression, Mr. Pataki invoked the solemnity of past battlegrounds in promising to preserve the hallowed ground in Lower Manhattan and ensure that no one will come away feeling offended by the reborn site.

“I view that memorial site as sacred grounds, akin to the beaches of Normandy or Pearl Harbor, and we will not tolerate anything on that site that denigrates America, denigrates New York or freedom, or denigrates the sacrifice or courage that the heroes showed on Sept. 11,” Mr. Pataki told reporters in Albany.

So don’t build it, Governor. It is in your power, if you’d just realize that.

Referring to the two cultural groups, he continued, “They have to do that, or they will not be at the memorial site – to the extent that I have the ability to do that.” As governor, Mr. Pataki appoints members to oversight boards for ground zero’s redevelopment, and after more than a decade in office, he almost certainly has the allies and the clout to change course and block cultural institutions from the site.

There. The Times says it in front of the world: You have the power, Governor. But do you have the leadership and courage to make a decision?

The Times goes on to show the fix he’s in: “Mr. Pataki’s demand, which was denounced by several arts groups and Democrats as a violation of free speech…” Once given the opportunity to speak, taking it away is a most unfortunate position to put yourself in. Oh, yes, people who use this opportunity to speak offense over the graves of the innocents and heroes of that day are offensive themselves, but Pataki will not have that defense. He will be the man who cut off their speech. Or he will be the man who invited it: “At the same time, several relatives of Sept. 11 victims have complained increasingly about the location at the memorial site of the proposed cultural center for the two groups….”

So who’s going to decide what’s offensive, Governor? You want that job? I don’t think so.

And you’ll get no help from your even less testosterone rich colleague, Mayor Bloomberg:

At his own news conference yesterday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg appeared to wrestle with his own sense of obligation to the site, to the governor and to First Amendment principles.

“The problem is, of course, that you can probably not find any reputable cultural institution any place in the world where some of what they display or do would be appropriate there, but not appropriate at this site,” he said. “And so the balance has got to be, and the challenge for the curators is going to be: given the context of where these cultural institutions are, what’s appropriate here?”

Listen to yourselves, gentlemen. You have no way out except to say:

Do not build it. Not there.

You should have said that immediately. Now you can suggest that they build it somewhere else and you’ll still find them yelling at you. But better that than leaving as your legacy for generations to come the most tangible memorial to political compromise ever built.

: In the Daily News, Pataki tried to sound tough but his words only gloss over indecision:

We will not tolerate anything on that site that denigrates America, denigrates New York or freedom or denigrates the sacrifice and courage that the heroes showed on Sept. 11….

Sure, there can be debate. But I don’t want that debate to be occurring at Ground Zero.

If you don’t want debate then, indeed, you don’t want speech. But what do you expect when you ask in the crew you did to build these centers?

Once again, Governor, you do not want to find yourself editing the the discussion to make sure it’s not debate, not offensive.

I said the same thing to Debra Burlingame, who, bless her, brought this to our attention: There is no point in trying to unstack the committees or edit their content. The only point at Ground Zero is the memorial.

: The New York Post sees through the efforts at tough talk:

Shame on Pataki.

If ever there was a time for him to stand up and do the right thing for New York, yesterday was it.

As always, his rhetoric yesterday sounded tough.

: But enough rhetoric.

: Here is my suggestion for what to do, Governor: Go use some political capital, if you have any left, to get a rich friend and benefactor to donate space for each center somewhere else in New York. Take the government and government funds out of this. You can say that this is best because there must be no distraction from the memorial at the World Trade Center. You can say (if you are good at keeping a straight face, which you are) that you wanted to find a new home for the centers with new funds to depoliticize them. You can say (with pure sincerity) that we must do nothing to stand in the way of the memory of that day.

That’s what you should do, Governor.

: And you, dear readers, can join the thousands at TakeBackTheMemorial.com who have signed the petition telling the governor:

Do not build it. Not there.