Plan for Flt. 587 memorial kept secret by city: Weiner

By Alex Davidson

A borough congressman is calling on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to better involve the community in future discussions regarding a memorial for the victims of American Airlines’ Flight 587 after he contended the city held secret meetings on the issue.

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) charged that the first-term Republican mayor allowed officials from the city Community Assistance Unit and Department of Parks and Recreation to meet and discuss design plans without alerting victims’ families or Belle Harbor residents.

“After two years of neglect of this issue, you announced on the anniversary that a memorial would be built,” Weiner wrote in a letter to Bloomberg dated Feb. 2. “That day a sidewalk plaque was laid without consultation on placement or content. Since then the participants in meetings that I had been holding to reach consensus on the future site and shape of a permanent memorial have been waiting for City Hall to pick up the ball and continue the progress.”

He added: “Sadly that has not happened.”

The American Airlines Airbus 300-600 crashed into the Rockaway community of Belle Harbor on Nov. 12, 2001 at 9:16 a.m. when it was flying a regular route from New York to the Dominican Republic, transporting passengers between friends and family in both countries.

More than half of the 260 people aboard the plane were Dominicans with relatives in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan who regularly take the popular daily shuttle that inspired a merengue song with lyrics called “Flight 587.”

Discussions between Belle Harbor and Washington Heights residents have centered around whether to build a memorial at the crash site or somewhere else nearby. Belle Harbor residents have said they want to rebuild several damaged homes hit by jet engines that dropped from the plane, while the Washington Heights residents prefer a memorial to rebuilding the homes.

A wooden wall around the burned houses at the crash site was the only tribute to the 265 victims of the crash, but the temporary memorial was torn down on the second anniversary of the incident.

Bloomberg issued the following statement in response to Weiner’s letter.

“The Bloomberg administration has been working with all interested parties from family members to the Rockaway Chamber of Commerce to develop a fitting memorial to this tragedy.”

Weiner, first elected to the House of Representatives in 1998, has raised more than $1.5 million in a campaign war chest and made it public that he might challenge Bloomberg in the 2005 mayoral contest.

Weiner, speaking at a news conference before the second anniversary memorial ceremony, had said plans were near completion and soon to be announced for a Flight 587 memorial. From the tone of his letter, however, it seems those plans have either been stalled or fallen through.

“As the representative of Rockaway and as someone who has met extensively with the families of the victims, I am available to assist you in navigating this complex and sensitive issue,” the congressman wrote to the mayor. “I have previously extended this offer to members of your staff.”

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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