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A Hitchhiker's Guide To The War on Terrorism

Tuesday, August 06, 2002



Anchor: In politics, they sometimes use the word hitchhiking to describe the act of attaching old agendas onto new scenarios. WNYC's Brian Lehrer is here now with A Hitchhiker's Guide To The War on Terrorism.

Pick your least favorite interest group and you'll probably find it hitchhiking its way to success since Sept. 11th. The gun lobby, for example, is using the war on terrorism to promote right-to-carry laws. It argues, in effect, that one of us might save the day by shooting the neighborhood terrorist before he explodes his suitcase bomb on your street corner. Prefer to bash environmentalists? The permanent campaign to shut down Indian Point has a new hook: nuclear plants are inviting terrorist targets. Then there's the anti-labor movement. It says the new Homeland Security Department is too important to be dragged down by collective bargaining. Only a contract imposed by management, apparently, can shield us from the evildoers.

And there are countless others. You'll know them when you see them.

But the most brazen hitchhiker of all lives right in the shadow of Ground Zero. It's the New York Stock Exchange.

In 1998, Mayor Giuliani made a deal with the NYSE. The city was to give the Exchange a billion dollars in public subsidies to expand its space on Wall Street. In return, the Stock Exchange would drop its threat to move to New Jersey. Not fair, really, but oh well. It was the 90s. The city felt rich.

Then comes September 11th, the stock market implosion and the city budget crisis. Suddenly, the billion dollars feels like it's really gonna hurt, and the new Mayor, Mike Bloomberg asks the Stock Exchange to invest more of its own money in the site. Stock Exchange executives are reported to be miffed.

Then, last week, along comes a little bombshell: The Stock Exchange says it may be looking at venues in Westchester and elsewhere to move as much as half the trading floor. Their official reason: redundancy. Backup digs. Just in case of another terrorist attack near Wall Street. Sounds reasonable. But the articles in the newspapers quoted unnamed Stock Exchange officials saying if the city revives the idea of a swell-enough subsidy package, well, they just might not be so afraid of lower Manhattan. Call it creative political accounting if you like. If you give us lots of taxpayer cash that could otherwise go to schools and senior centers, we'll keep our terrorism fears off the ledger.

Mayor Bloomberg, to his credit, was not shy about calling the Exchange's bluff. He shot back that the Stock Exchange would let the terrorists win if it hurts the city's economy.

But on Thursday, Stock Exchange Chairman Richard Grasso declared the downtown deal dead. Congratulations, Bin Laden.

Grasso said he's still considering Westchester, plus Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens. Just as prices on the exchange have returned to 1998 levels, the exchange itself has descended to '98 politics. The dirty game of playing one locality against another, to get the biggest subsidy for the wealthiest among us, is back.

On second thought, this is less a story about hitchhiking than about hijacking. In the midst of the city's biggest fiscal crisis in 25 years, the New York Stock Exchange is demanding a free ride. They have their thumbs out and a gun to the driver's head. But don't look for these executives to be led away in chains like their colleagues from Worldcom. This kind of Wall Street thievery is perfectly legal.

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