New York, NY —Huge contracts were handed out in the days and weeks following September 11 to clean up the World Trade Center site. Ultimately, a team of 169 companies was put in place. Their work was widely lauded for being completed early and under budget. A WNYC analysis has found a quarter of those companies made campaign contributions to Governor Pataki and the State Republican Party - and most of those donations came in after September 11. WNYC's Andrea Bernstein has this report.
The day after the World Trade Center towers collapsed, the city needed to find a group of companies to clean up the site - and fast. There was no time to go through the usual - but lengthy -- contracting procedures. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani himself got on the phone and called some of the worlds largest construction companies - those that would have the capacity and the financial wherewithal to do the job while waiting for federal funds to come through. Four large companies were quickly chosen. They were Bovis Lend Lease, AMEC, Tully Construction and Turner Construction, each of which was responsible for one quadrant of the site. Those companies, in turn, hired more than 150 subcontractors to do everything from cutting steel to hauling debris on barges. It was hard, worker Mark Chakidas said last October.
Chakidas: well what you're looking at is a big pile of metal they're just taking it out little by little and um they're doing the best they can its tough, everything's all entangled you got to work your way up to work your way down.
Still, city and state officials were thrilled with the job the companies and workers were doing. Last March, Governor George Pataki gave a report card on the World Trade Center recovery efforts.
Chakidas: If I might comment on that chart you can see the removal of the debris is going dramatically ahead of schedule I think its 83 percent of the debris has already been removed we are far ahead of schedule and the other point I'd like to make is the cost is dramatically lower than any one anticipated the afternoon in the weeks after September 11.
$650 million dollars in federal funds was earmarked for the clean up. The contracts were handed out by the city, but under federal regulations, the money came through the state.
But while all of this was happening in the public view, something else was happening more quietly
Speaker: Our honored guests for today's event, state Republican Party chair Sandy Treadwell, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Lt. Governor Mary Donohue, and Governor George Pataki. Ladies and gentleman the President of the United States..(wild cheering)
The state Republican Party and the governor were raising money for his re-election campaign. At this event, last February, both Governor Pataki and his honored guest, President George Bush, mentioned September 11.
Bush: what this state needs is somebody who you can count on, somebody who won't panic somebody who won't play politics with the situation somebody who knows how to lead and that somebody is Governor George Pataki (wild cheering, let run under me.)
In the months and weeks following September 11, many of the companies working on the World Trade Center clean up made donations, including all four of the major contractors. In all, 42, or a quarter of the 169 companies who worked on the pit made contributions to New York republicans - giving $340,0000 in all. Two thirds of the contributions were made in the weeks and months after September 11. Blair Horner is Legislative Director for the New York Public Interest Research Group. Horner has studied campaign contributions under Democratic governors and Republican governors. He says there's a pattern in New York of companies who do business with the state giving to its top elected officials. But he says he wouldn't expect to find 25 percent of a random sample of New York companies giving to its Governor.
Horner: that would be astonishing because the percentage of people who make donations to the political system is very small and the percentage of people who make significant donations is a tiny fraction of the people in new York .
Michael McKeon, a spokesman for the governor, didn't dispute that a higher percentage of the contractors were giving than those in the general population.
McKeon: Like a lot of new Yorkers these are companies and working people who saw the governor in action saw the governor in action firsthand down at the site in some of the worst moments this city and country and has ever experience.
McKeon says its only natural they would give.
McKeon: I assume like a lot of new Yorkers they appreciated the governor's efforts they support the job that he did and they wanted help him to continue to do the fine job that he did in the aftermath of that terrible day.
Many of the donors were first-time givers to this campaign. One of those companies was AMEC. It gave three contributions of $10,000 each in December, February, and March. AMEC spokesman David Paterson says the company routinely gives to both Republicans and Democrats to support the democratic process.
Paterson: what I can say is that we've responded to requests as part of the campaign program for raising money for the various candidates and its just part of the long term policy and approach.
Paterson said AMEC had not given to any New York Democrats in the last four years, and he couldn't say when AMEC had given to New York Republicans in the past. Bovis Lend Lease, another of the large contractors, has a track record of giving to New York Republicans. But its biggest contribution by far this campaign came last June, post 9/11. Mary Costello, a company Vice President, says there was no connection.
Costello: We typically make contributions within the guidelines of the law this practice has absolutely nothing to do with our work at the World Trade Center.
Paterson, the AMEC spokesman, pointed out that the contracts were handed out by the city - not the state. That's true, but the money, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency did pass through the state.
This isn't the first time a link has been made between World Trade Center-related funds and campaign contributors. Common Cause New York did a study of $340 million in liberty bonds - money for lower Manhattan housing. It found that the Pataki-controlled Housing Finance Authority recommended that most of that $340 million be given to companies that were campaign contributors. Common Cause Executive Director Rachel Leon says she's disturbed by the pattern.
Leon: any issue that is hot in Albany or anything that is up for grabs in the state you then see this pattern of money and lobbying following it so downtown Manhattan there's a lot of money available from the feds, from the state level
At last count, Pataki had raised $40 million to Democratic Challenger Carl McCall's $12 million. More than 80 percent of Pataki's money is being spent on ads like this one.
Pataki ad: in the past year, something remarkable has happened. Instead of tough times pulling us apart, they've brought us together.
And this one:
Pataki ad: On the environment, prescription drugs, and education, Carl McCall let us down.
With almost no money to spend on ads of his own, Carl McCall has been practically absent from the airwaves, and his standing in the polls is suffering.
When the clean up of the World Trade Center was completed last May, it was a time for sober reflection. The clean up, almost everyone agreed, was an example of New York at its best. But it was also the first step of a process, a process that will bring billions more dollars to Lower Manhattan, money that will stream to the city through the State of New York. For WNYC, I'm Andrea Bernstein.
Prepared with help from Deepa Ranganathan and Jesse Logan.