NEW YORK — As the World Trade Center collapsed, the gorgeous mosaic that is New York City cracked but did not crumble. Our city, always first among firsts, will be the first world capital of the new millennium to rebuild, taller and stronger than ever.
I was not so sure of that last week as I walked through downtown's steel forest of ruins, weakened and saddened to the bottom of my soul by the enormity of the loss of life. I had a difficult time recreating the joy I once felt at the sight of the center from a New York Police Department helicopter at the end of a long summer day. But, like many New Yorkers, my sadness soon became anger, and, even more quickly, the anger was overwhelmed by a burgeoning sense of pride and hope.
I was proud of the leaders who have put forth maximum effort in rescuing the missing, honoring the dead, and restoring order. I was proud of our rescue workers in their Herculean effort. As I stopped at the walls of the missing, I was proud of the resolve expressed there, too. And I was proud of my friends who gave their lives for others, such as the Franciscan friar and fire chaplain, the Rev. Mychal Judge, and hundreds of men and women like him who rushed headlong into the firestorm.
Of course, our nation was built on laws, not men, and those precepts of self-determination are precisely the reasons for the attack - but also why we will overcome our tormentors. But "our town," as my late, dear friend, the builder Lew Rudin, called our great metropolis, is a town of men and women who stand taller than any edifice.
Though we were victimized for a crippling few moments, we are not a city of victims. We are a city of builders. The rebuilding began as our people worked through the night to ensure the opening of the world's greatest financial exchanges. The rebuilding began as New Yorkers - by foot, by bus, by train, by ferry - returned to work in the smoky canyons of downtown Manhattan. Undaunted, each tear we wipe away with our busy hands makes us stronger.
New York City led the world in 20th-century urban and human development. We are committed to the same vision for the 21st century. Our unique skyline has stood brightly and tall - enhanced by the stature and depth of the New Yorkers, native or transplanted, who populate those buildings.
Gov. George Pataki and our legislative leaders, along with Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have been encouraged by the president's unwavering commitment to help rebuild our city. Our public advocate, Mark Green, who is a candidate for mayor, along with some of the brightest business and government minds of the city, has proposed the creation of a New York City Emergency Reconstruction Authority, a super-agency empowered by the state legislature, with the power of eminent domain and the ability to override time-consuming land-use rules, to respond to this crisis. The state of New York is already implementing a plan to retain businesses that have been affected by the World Trade Center attack.
In the short term, we need to move quickly to provide temporary space to displaced firms. Then, long term, we need to follow the example that was so successfully demonstrated in Harlem, and designate lower Manhattan as a new kind of enterprise or empowerment zone.
Of course, we will build again on the site of the World Trade Center, and generations to come will be impressed by our unique skyline and people.
Of course, we will always remember those who died on Sept. 11. We will mark their passing with appropriate, permanent solemnity.
Of course, the gorgeous mosaic - each tile composed of another people, another faith, another culture, but heart and soul all New Yorkers, all Americans - will glisten more brightly, will spread out more widely, as we work long into the night, our hopes illuminated by the torch of our harbor's Lady Liberty.
David N. Dinkins was the mayor of New York from 1990 to 1993.