NEW YORK (AP) — The 2001 terrorist attacks are closely associated with a pair of New York City mayors.
Rudolph Giuliani became “America’s mayor” for his display of strength in the hours after the attacks.
Michael Bloomberg steered the rebuilding of ground zero for the next 12 years and became the unofficial caretaker of the civic memory of September 11, overseeing the creation of the site’s memorial and museum.
Now, as the 13th anniversary of the attacks arrives, a new mayor says his connection to the city’s darkest day is to always be aware that it could happen again.
“The responsibility I have today was generated by that horrible day,” Bill de Blasio told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview on Wednesday, the day before his first September 11 as mayor.
“My role now is to look out for the first responders who have fallen ill since then and to be ever vigilant against future terror,” said de Blasio.
The anniversary, which will be marked Thursday in a solemn ground zero ceremony that de Blasio will attend, comes amid new terror worries for the nation’s largest city.
While there is no specific threat against New York at the moment, air strikes in Iraq, unrest in Syria and the rise of the Islamic State present the most complex terror danger since 2001, NYPD officials said this week.
De Blasio, a Democrat who took office in January, said his administration views the rising threat of IS as a reminder that “you can never rest on your laurels.”
“No matter what’s in the news, we’re in a perpetual state of readiness,” the mayor said. “I don’t think it feels that different than a year ago. We were already the number one target a year ago and the year before that. I do not expect that to change in my mayoralty.”
On Sept. 11, 2001, de Blasio, then a political operative, was making his first bid for public office. He was in a six-way race for a City Council seat to represent a swath of Brooklyn that includes his home neighborhood of Park Slope.
He was at a polling site when his brother called to say a plane had hit the World Trade Center.
“Obviously, I remember it very vividly,” de Blasio said. “Before that call, it was an unusually happy day; it was a beautiful day, kids were going to school, and people were out participating in an election.”
At first, de Blasio thought it was a small plane and a horrible accident. He soon realized differently and scrambled to find a working phone to call his wife, Chirlane McCray.
“We figured out to how to get the kids from school, and we wanted to make sure all our campaign workers were accounted for,” he said. “People couldn’t reach each other, and we tried to help.”
With the primary canceled, he and several staffers walked to a nearby hospital in an attempt to donate blood but were turned away because so many other people were already in line. He then went home to hug his children.
De Blasio later learned one firefighter he knew was killed and another had lost his son. Additionally, the daughter of his son’s pre-kindergarten teacher died in the collapse. He attended many funerals in the weeks that followed, he said.
“It was such a painful time,” he said. “But it also speaks to the city and its resiliency.”
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press