Bloomberg, 9/11 kin reach deal on ceremony

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By Karla Shuster
August 10, 2007

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and a coalition of relatives of Sept. 11 victims reached a compromise Thursday that would allow them to briefly descend into a small section of the former World Trade Center site, which the city previously had said was unsafe for the annual memorial.

"It's a relief for the families and solace for me to know I can go down to where he drew his last breath and leave a flower," said Deputy Fire Chief Jim Riches of Brooklyn, whose son Jimmy, a firefighter, died in the attack.

The deal came after a half-hour meeting between the mayor and about 10 family members at City Hall, during which they made a presentation urging Bloomberg to reconsider his decision to move the entire ceremony to Zuccotti Park, across the street from ground zero.

The city, state and Port Authority had said that, unlike past years, ground zero was unsafe because reconstruction was well underway. In previous ceremonies, families had unfettered access to what is called the Pit, seven stories below street level.

Last week, the families filed a permit application with the Port Authority for access to ground zero at three points, including on West Street overlooking the site for the traditional reading of victims' names, and to the Pit via a ramp on Liberty Street.

The deal reached Thursday will allow families to walk, single file, down the ramp to leave flowers on an area of bedrock that is a few hundred square feet. The procession will take place as first responders read the victims' names at Zuccotti Park.

"They'll just have a moment to toss their flowers on the sacred ground," said Sally Regenhard, whose firefighter son was killed. Like many victims' relatives, Regenhard has not received any of her son's remains and has had nothing to bury.

Bloomberg, in a prepared statement, said the Port Authority had assured the city that limited access to ground zero could be done safely.