9|11: The Winners

For some people, the terrorist attacks have been a gold mine

Next, let us consider the National September 11 Memorial and Museum itself, which will cost at least $700 million to build, and will have a $60 million annual operating budget. The Oklahoma City Bombing memorial cost $29.1 million to build. The World War II Memorial cost $175 million.

And despite the name, it's not really a "national" monument, as in something owned by the public. It's actually a private, not-for-profit entity.

The memorial is so expensive that the Port Authority, not known for its frugality, is demanding $150 million from it to cover its own outlays.

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Vincent “Vinny” Forras in the uniform of his charity, the Gear Up Foundation.
Patriot Action Network
Vincent “Vinny” Forras in the uniform of his charity, the Gear Up Foundation.

The top 11 officials of the September 11 Memorial and Museum make at least $190,000 a year, with four of them—Joseph Daniels, Alice Greenwald, Joan Gerner, and Cathy Blaney—making well over $300,000, tax records show. That's $2.8 million in salaries just for 11 people. And when former general counsel Frank Aiello left in 2009, he got a $180,000 severance payment.

To put it in perspective, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly makes just $210,000, and he only runs the nation's largest police agency and oversees a $4 billion budget.

Daniels has mounted an aggressive fund-raising campaign, which includes selling just about everything that can be sold, including stones ($100-$1,000), coins ($66.95), an "official" book of the memorial ($19.95), charter memberships ($25), "visionary" memberships (If you have to ask...), and of course the obligatory gift shop, currently housed at the "preview center." (Necklace which says "No day shall erase you from the memory of time," $80)

On top of all that, after pledging to raise its budget privately, the organization is now lobbying in Washington for federal funding.

But a lot of people are expected to donate their own stories for free, which will then be used by the museum for promotion, like the recent request for foreign-language speakers to make statements that will "potentially" be used in the museum. "Compensation: none."

Recently, Daniels caused some controversy by sending a fund-raising letter that linked the deaths of 30 American soldiers in Afghanistan to 9/11, and then went on to crow about the donation of a map showing where soldiers had buried pieces of World Trade Center steel. "It's important to have this important piece of history in our collection," he wrote. (Michael Frazier, spokesman for the Memorial, objected to our characterizing this as a "fundraising letter," pointing out that Daniels never made a request for donations in it.)

For retired fire captain Jim Riches, who lost a son on 9/11 and got sick because of the months he labored at Ground Zero, the memorial has become a tourist site, not a place of remembrance. He points out that Daniels's salary has increased from $185,000 to $340,000.

"This is a place of reverence, and remembrance, not a revenue-generating tourist attraction, which is what they are treating it as," Riches says. "They have a gift shop right there. This is obscene. This is the same as the people selling stuff on the street. What they are doing is they are making a profit. I feel sorry for all the kids who passed a hat and donated money to it."

Riches recently got some attention for criticizing former presidential candidate and Fox News anchor Mike Huckabee for selling a $9.95 cartoon video about 9/11. He accused Huckabee of trying to profit from 9/11, calling it "blood money."

Now, Riches says he hopes Governor Cuomo investigates salaries for 9/11 charities as part of a board he set up for a broader examination of nonprofit salaries.

Corbett, the professor of fire science at John Jay College, says the memorial will be enormously expensive to maintain. "I don't know anyone who insisted that it had to be done this way," he says. "Compare what it costs to maintain the Vietnam Memorial. No one asked for this enormously expensive memorial that will be difficult to maintain given the budget constraints."

The memorial itself of course is just the most prominent part of what some people call the "Memorial-Industrial Complex." Here's another: Just last week, in time for the 10th anniversary, a company called New York City Vacation Packages, which bills itself as promoting "leisure travel," announced tours of Ground Zero and the memorial complex.

For the $29 "WTC Memorial Tour," you get a tour of the site, a ticket to the memorial, and a stroll past various skyscrapers. For the $59 "Liberty Tour," you also get a trip to the Statue of Liberty. Ellis Island is extra. Gray Line offers the memorial as part of package that can run to $154.

Plenty of people are still making bank off the merchandising of 9/11. Between June and next February, no fewer than 85 books on 9/11 will be published, many of them mawkish retrospectives just the same as the tearjerkers now appearing in newspapers and television. You can also pick up ex-wrestler and Minnesota governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura's book, American Conspiracies, ($24.95) which argues explosives caused the towers' collapse, and that the Bush administration "knew" about it. While you're reading, you can wash it down with a bottle of 9/11 wine for $19.11 a bottle, endorsed by the Memorial (!) and produced by a Long Island winery, Lieb Family Cellars.

There are also $99 coins supposedly made from silver recovered from Ground Zero. EBay is still loaded with 9/11 collectibles, including an "authentic FDNY uniform badge" for $102.50, which the seller claims "belonged to a family member who was a first responder on 9/11."

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