“That was the challenge that we faced, and it was an enormous one,” recalls Jonathan Greenspun, who then was part of Bloomberg’s community affairs unit and now is a political consultant. “There was a recognition, by the mayor, that the ceremony had to transcend typical memorial services and the politics that are sometimes associated with them.”
Officials fielded about 4,500 suggestions — including a Broadway parade honoring rescue workers and a one-minute blackout of all Manhattan — before crafting a plan centered on reading names at ground zero.
“Our intent is to have a day of observances that are simple and powerful,” Bloomberg said as he and then-Gov. George Pataki announced the plans in 2002.
For years, the ceremonies did include politicians reading names and texts, and Bloomberg made remarks that over the years touched on Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 London subway bombings and the Biblical King David’s grief at the death of his son Absolom, among other topics.
Bloomberg’s role hasn’t always been comfortable, especially for a mayor whose brisk, pragmatic personality and early criticisms of the memorial struck some victims’ relatives as insensitive.
When the ceremony was shifted to nearby Zuccotti Park in 2007 because of rebuilding at the trade center site, some victims’ relatives threatened to boycott the occasion.
The lead-up to the 10th anniversary brought pressure to invite more political figures and to include clergy in the ceremony. And when Bloomberg mentioned the idea of ending the name-reading the next year, some of the relatives were aghast.
By next year’s anniversary, Bloomberg will be out of office, and the museum is expected to be open beneath the memorial plaza.
While the memorial honors those killed, the museum is intended to present a broader picture of 9/11, including the experiences of survivors and first responders.