Ten Years After 9/11, Lessons Remain Unlearned, Says Kean
By John Burton
WEST LONG BRANCH — The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks left deep scars in America but we still have not learned the lessons of that tragic day, says former NJ Governor Thomas H. Kean, former chair of the 9/11 Commission.
Kean participated in a three-person panel at Monmouth University last Thursday for a program titled “9/11—A Ten Year Perspective.
Joining the former Governor were Virginia Bauer, whose husband was killed in the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan that day; and Lewis Eisenberg, a Rumson resident and former chairman of the board for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
President George W. Bush selected Kean to serve as chair of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States, with the commission eventually offering its comprehensive and controversial findings in a lengthy report that actually became a national bestselling book.
Kean, who served as Governor from 1982-1990, told the large audience that filled the university’s Wilson Hall, that he grew up in a time when we as a nation worried about nation-states—Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union. “We felt these oceans kept us secure, was the prevailing attitude in this nation, Kean said. But this attack, the first on U.S. soil since the War of 1812, he said, was perpetrated by 19 men.
With the assistance of Lee Hamilton, a former Indiana congressman who served as the commission’s vice-chair, Kean, a Republican, the commission drafted its report. And the findings were troubling, as Kean went on to explain to the audience. “Agency after agency after agency failed us,” he said, noting that the Bush Administration actually had tried to keep information out of the commission’s hand; but “the commission was tough” and continued to seek out the information.
The goal was two-fold, with the commission intent on finding out what happened and how to prevent it from happening again. But, “10 years after Congress still has not passed a bill to give first responders what they need to talk to each other,” a fatal flaw on 9/11, he said, pointing to the failures in responding to Hurricane Katrina in 2008, where these issues again showed themselves.
“So, we got a lot to do still,” he said.
Bauer, a lifelong Monmouth County resident, told of losing her husband, David, and how that tragedy inspired her activism, working on behalf of victims’ families. “For whatever reason I had the strength and determination to help others,” she said.
“Perhaps one of the most important things we needed to do was to probe and ask questions,” about what happened and what could happen,” Bauer said of her work.
That work has led Bauer to eventually serve as the state’s commerce secretary as well as sitting on the Fort Monmouth Economic Redevelopment Planning Authority (FMERPA), which was convened to work on the redevelopment of the fort property as the U.S. Department of Defense prepared to close that installation; and she is currently a commissioner for the Port Authority, as well as holding a private sector job a chief executive officer with a security technology company
Eisenberg, a former head at Goldman Sachs, was chairman of the Port Authority on Sept. 11, 2001. He said he got into New York later than usual that morning, and opted to go to a midtown office as opposed to his usual location in lower Manhattan. In its aftermath, Eisenberg said he had difficulty coming to terms with his emotions as he attended 34 funerals of those who were killed. One of them was a man he had worked with for years who called him on 9/11 wanting to know where Eisenberg was in the building so he could be ushered out. Eisenberg told the man he wasn’t on the location and was all right. That was the last time they spoke, he said.
“During that time I wasn’t able to cry, to shed a tear,” he acknowledged. At least until the 10th anniversary, when he attended the ceremony at Ground Zero in New York and his wife pointed out that man’s name etched in the memorial, and he “walked as a spectator among heroes,’ and “I started to cry.”
Last Thursday’s event was this year’s offering for the H.R. Young lecture series for the university’s Kislak Real Estate Institute and the Leon Hess Business School, which traditionally features distinguished members of the financial community.