By Jennifer Reeger Tribune-Review
As organizers of the 9/11 anniversary ceremony in New York announced that politicians are excluded this year, the president of the Families of Flight 93 said Thursday that whether or not to invite elected officials to speak is always a topic of discussion among organizers of the Somerset County event.
“I think it’s fair to say that every year there is a question of whether or not having elected or appointed government officials is appropriate is discussed,” said Patrick White, whose cousin, Louis J. Nacke II, was one of 40 passengers and crew who died aboard the hijacked United Airlines flight in 2001. “This year, I suspect, is no different than any other.”
As organizers are pulling together the program for this year, one factor is certain: With or without politicians, this year’s commemoration at the crash site near Shanksville is expected to be on a much smaller scale than years past.
On Wednesday, the foundation that controls the 9/11 memorial in New York sent a letter to families stating that the reading of victims’ names by relatives will be the “exclusive focus” of this year’s anniversary event. Politicians are excluded from speaking at the event because family members are concerned that political struggles are hindering progress on the museum at the World Trade Center site, according to The Associated Press.
“The National September 11 Memorial is focused on honoring the victims and their families in a way free of politics, and this ensures that continues,” Joe Daniels, president of the memorial foundation, said in a statement on Wednesday.
Presidents, vice presidents, first ladies, Cabinet and Congress members, and state and local officials have spoken at ceremonies at the Flight 93 National Memorial site in Stonycreek Township.
Jeff Reinbold, superintendent of the Flight 93 National Memorial, said although this year’s program in Somerset County has not been finalized, organizers anticipate a smaller-scale event. He said the slate of speakers has not been determined.
“It will be a much more intimate observance on the 11th, but also a weekend of activities (leading up to the Tuesday anniversary),” Reinbold said.
He said organizers anticipate traditional activities — such as the reading of the names of the 40 victims and the tolling of bells — mixed with new.
“We want to create an event that we can sustain for years to come,” Reinbold said. “Now that the memorial is open and functioning, we want to be able to highlight different parts of the site to visitors.”
White, who is not on the committee that is organizing the ceremony, said he expects fewer speeches than last year, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“It may just be an actual evolution of the event,” he said. “… We are generally looking to be more prudent about the scale and the scope and to more actively be ingrained and engaged in a series of events that are more at the community level.”
White said that some family members each year have questioned the appropriateness of government officials speaking at the anniversary event. But organizers have tried to balance that with the recognition that politicians bring—both the funding and the publicity needed to finish the memorial.
“We continue to encourage our elected and appointed officials — city, county, state and federal — that the project warrants completion at the earliest possible date,” White said.