Deal Finally Ends PR Mess over 9/11 Museum

Last weekend’s The New York Times profile detailing the internecine battles over the 9/11 Museum at Ground Zero was a classic tale of political infighting: Three massive egos, each representing huge geographic and demographic groups, arguing over the details of planning and funding for a major urban rehabilitation project and tourist destination.

“America’s Mayor” himself Rudy Giuliani took the opportunity to express his frustration, and after reading the article quite a few of us felt like the museum might continue to embarrass the states of New York and New Jersey for many years to come.

Well, today brings news that Michael Bloomberg, Chris Christie, Andrew Cuomo and their respective organizations have reached an agreement after more than a year of total inactivity. How convenient that they happened to strike a deal on the anniversary of the event itself! You might call it a PR coup—or an example of the timeless power of peer pressure.

The latest skirmish, which centered on the question of how to divide the museum’s operating costs between the September 11 foundation and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, as well as which entity would control the memorial’s real estate, got so bad that Govs. Christie and Cuomo skipped the foundation’s annual fund-raising dinner.

So what led these hard-edged pols to make nice? Strategically applied pressure from the members of the foundation, some of whom have a very personal investment in the project and would rather not see it dissolve into the usual political infighting.

It seems that Mr. Bloomberg’s foundation made a few concessions, foregoing a significant chunk of money that it calls the responsibility of the Port Authority. And in the interest of avoiding future boondoggles, the parties plan to “form a trio of new task forces to smooth the interaction of competing interests at the site.”

Maybe they should have done that before everything got so ugly.

There’s a valuable PR lesson to be learned here: There comes a point in every squabble at which the two (or more) sides involved manage to realize that the whole mess makes everyone involved look bad–and that sucking it up, proceeding like responsible adults and reaching an agreement is the only way out. Now let’s hope that, whenever the museum does finally open, visitors learn to treat it a little more reverently than they have the 9/11 Memorial.

Final point: In case you thought we’d managed to transcend petty politics for a single shining moment, fear not: Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is currently delaying a bill to allocate federal funding for the museum. Why? Because he has principles. Or something. Ugh.