Governor Pataki pulled the plug yesterday on the International Freedom Center, the museum planned for ground zero that aimed to weave the events of September 11 into a historical movement toward freedom around the globe.
The governor asked the state agency in charge of the site, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, to work with the freedom center to locate other potential sites outside of its previously designated home in the World Trade Center site's "memorial quadrant."
But freedom center officials abruptly terminated their project after learning of the governor's decision.
"We do not believe there is a viable alternative place for the IFC at the World Trade Center site," read the freedom center's statement. "We consider our work, therefore, to have been brought to an end."
The freedom center's president, Richard Tofel, and its chairman, Thomas Bernstein, declined to comment beyond the statement, which went on to say that they were "profoundly sorry to see ... the loss of a museum of freedom at the place where freedom was so brutally challenged."
The governor's decision to intercede in what had been a deliberate and public process came as a surprise. Last night, the freedom center canceled a planned public presentation in front of Community Board 1.
On Thursday, the LMDC had posted the freedom center proposal on its Web site and was welcoming public input via the Internet. Its board was scheduled to meet on October 6.
The governor released his statement yesterday afternoon, saying: "The creation of an institution that would show the world our unity and our resolve to preserve freedom in the wake of the horrific attacks is a noble pursuit. But freedom should unify us. This Center has not."
Mr. Pataki said the LMDC board, chaired by John Whitehead, must now "identify programming for the memorial quadrant that will tell the story of September 11th."
Mr. Whitehead said in a statement that he was disappointed that a resolution could not be reached.
"We will move forward with the centerpiece of our efforts, creating an inspiring memorial to those we have lost," Mr. Whitehead said.
Several of the victims' family members applauded the decision, but others wondered what would replace the freedom center.
The vice chair of the freedom center, Paula Berry, whose husband, David Berry, died on September 11 at the World Trade Center, said removing "a life affirming memorial" would condemn ground zero as a graveyard.
"Without it, it will be a static memorial. I care not to remember my husband and those that died by the way they died and the event that killed them. I'm more interested in remembering the way they lived," Ms. Berry told The New York Sun.
The design of the freedom center became the subject of public scrutiny in early June when Debra Burlingame, the sister of a pilot whose hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, wrote a scathing article for the Wall Street Journal's editorial page titled "The Great Ground Zero Heist."
Ms. Burlingame wrote that ground zero's cultural space had been hijacked by ideologues obsessed with human rights who were likely to host exhibits that would criticize America and dishonor the victims.
The article had a ripple effect.
Soon after, the governor warned the LMDC to avoid use of the site that would "denigrate America."
In mid-August, the Uniformed Firefighters Association followed suit when fire union president Stephen Cassidy said the museum would lessen the sacrifice made by 343 firefighters who died on September 11.
Another planned cultural exhibitor at ground zero, the SoHo-based art gallery called the Drawing Center, withdrew from the site in August. It was also criticized publicly for displaying art that ridiculed President Bush in its Wooster Street gallery.
Under increasing public pressure, the LMDC asked the freedom center last month to submit a more detailed proposal for the 300,000 square foot museum.
Before doing so, the museum board added a ten-member family advisory panel to deflect criticism from victims' relatives.
In early September, the LMDC hired a conflict resolution specialist, Peter Woodin, to work between the parties to try to forge a compromise.
The freedom center's 49-page proposal released last week described a museum that aimed to place the events of September 11 within the context of "a constantly-evolving world movement in which America has played a leading role."
The plans described exhibitions honoring the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, Nelson Mandela, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and contemporary Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo.
The decision to weave the events of September 11 within a larger historical context rather than isolate the events themselves exposed the project to new criticism.
Some family members said that debate did not belong at ground zero, and several politicians lined up against the museum, including Senator Clinton and Mayor Giuliani.
Late last week, three Republican congressmen, Reps. Peter King, Vito Fossella, and John Sweeney vowed to drag the freedom center before hearings in Washington over the use of federal funds for the museum.
Mayor Bloomberg stayed out of the fray until Tuesday, when he first signaled his opposition to the proposal. He urged his appointees on the LMDC board to seek a resolution, but he said that if they could not find a solution, "We just can't do it."
After Mr. Pataki's announcement yesterday, the mayor said that while he understood the governor's decision, "I am disappointed that we were not able to find a way to reconcile the freedoms we hold so dear with the sanctity of the site."
Senator Clinton, Mr. Giuliani, and Mr. Fossella issued statements applauding end the of the freedom center.
"Goodbye and good riddance," Mr. Fossella said. "The IFC proposed a museum that had the potential to become a theater of anti-American propaganda."
The master architect for the site, Daniel Libeskind, who included space for a cultural component within his plans for ground zero, said yesterday that he supported the governor's decision. He said the change would not disrupt his architectural plans.
"I think what was out of place was the controversy," Mr. Libeskind told The New York Sun. "It's a decision that helps us move forward and unites us."
Ms. Burlingame called the governor's decision to end the process immediately "fantastic news."
"It was inherently flawed, and it was an unfixable situation," she said. "I do hope this means they are not going to be hanging around the perimeter of ground zero."