Photos by Betsy Kelleher
After two presidential runs in one year, former Senator Mike Gravel is setting his sites on New York City politics, specifically a grassroots effort to have New York City citizens vote to establish a new September 11th investigation commission.
The petition drive needs at least 30,000 residents to give their signatures in order to place a potential amendment to the city charter on the November ballot. The former Alaska senator and lifelong political loose cannon threw his weight behind the effort to establish a second, privately funded investigation into the events of September 11th, in response to what he called a fatally flawed 9/11 Commission report.
“Even the commissioners and their panderers admit it had shortcomings” Gravel said. “This commission will be made up of people with only one stake: finding the truth.”
Petition drive leaders say their efforts began in February, and thus far have gathered around 10,000 signatures in support of the ballot initiative. That leaves another 20,000 signatures that the petitioners must collect before an early September deadline. Even if they collect the needed signatures, they must clear additional hurdles. The City Council must approve the measure, although a council rejection of ballot initiative can be overridden by the collection of 15,000 more signatures. Mayor Michael Bloomberg can also unilaterally veto the measure.
Despite the hurdles, volunteers are pressing on. Coordinator Les Jamieson said that the key would be building a “mass movement” able to pressure the government in the case of a Bloomberg veto. While the petition drive does not presuppose a particular theory of what happened on 9/11, Jamieson cited the influence of web-driven 9/11 conspiracy theory research as a key motivators for many volunteers.
“If you take physics 101, you know that oxygen-fed fires don’t burn hot enough to melt or bend steel” said volunteer Doug Wight. “No one knows what happened, but we know what they’re telling isn’t true.”
The full ballot initiative, which can be viewed at nyc911initiative.org/, would appoint 15 people, including Gravel, former Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chaffee, activists, and representatives of 9/11 victims’ families. The commission would rely on private financing, with a budget of $10 million a year.
Despite the prominence of 9-11 conspiracy theorists at yesterday’s press conference, former Senator Gravel directed most of his comments at supporting his vision of direct democracy in America. “We’re trying to change the paradigm of human governance” by supporting ballot initiatives such as this across the country, he said. “To have power you should be able to vote on all issues that affect your lives.”
Gravel said he supports any efforts to bring accountability to the Bush administration, also claiming that he expects a new commission to uncover crimes committed in the lead-up to 9/11.
“The sooner we put a President, a Vice President, a Secretary of Defense in jail, the sooner things will shape up” he said, adding that “impeachment is too soft.”