John Galt Shrugged: How Could He Know What Was Going On
The John Galt Corporation was the major subcontractor at the Deutsche Bank Building.
Why does that name sound familiar?
Because John Galt, a fictional character, was the hero in an Ayn Rand novel, Atlas Shrugged. He was an engineer who could do anything. Except demolish a building, apparently.
The John Galt Corporation is a shell, operating out of the same office as Regional Scaffolding and Hoisting Company, 3900 Webster Avenue, Bronx.
Bovis Lend-Lease, the general contractor, declared Galt in default. Who cares if they are in default? They are a dummy corporation. In law school we used to call their operators straw men.
Now none of this would be an issue if two firefighters had not died when their oxygen supply was exhausted in an out-of-control blaze in the building under demolition. It was subsequently discovered that the main pipe supposed to bring water to the 17th floor, the site of the fire, had been disconnected and a twenty-foot section removed.
As is often, and appropriately, the case after a tragedy, there are multiple investigations to find out what happened, why and what can be done to prevent future disasters. Here are some of the questions that should be explored.
1. Why were there so many firefighters on high floors of the building? There could easily have been many more than two fatalities. Last time there were 343.
2. Who disconnected the water line, and why was that done? Who knew the line was not functioning?
3. Why was it considered necessary to risk lives to fight a fire in an unoccupied building that was under demolition?
4. What was the Fire Department’s plan for dealing with the fire? Who prepared it? Who was in charge of the operation at the scene?
5. Who approved a fictional company to undertake a major demolition project? Why was no other responsible bidder found for the job? Who knocked out the other bidders, if there were any?
6. The principal agencies responsible appear to be the Fire Department, the Buildings Department, and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. What level of officials were involved, what decisions did they make with regard to awarding the contract, and who was in charge of overseeing the demolition?
7. Who, if anyone, should be held responsible for the deaths of the firefighters? To what degree?
8. If a firefighter repeatedly calls MayDay, the emergency appeal for rescue, should there not be a GPS attached to his helmet, so he can at least be located?
9. Why is this work being done in the sixth year after the destruction of the World Trade Center. Didn’t that provide enough time to get safety measures in place?
10. Is death an inevitable aspect of firefighting, and should we simply bury the dead, pay the widows and orphans, and move on to the next event? If not, what can we do to see that this does not happen again?
These are ten questions that occur to us. We are certain that experts will find many more that should be asked. It will take a long time to sort out the pieces, it always does.
This does not mean that John Galt, whomever it may be, necessarily did wrong. That is why a thorough, diligent and competent inquiry is needed, and not a self-serving glossover by those responsible for the tragedy. Whatever papers were signed, we assume that LMDC and the other authorities involved knew the reality of the situation. It is public agencies who should be held substantially accountable for the disaster. If untrained and unqualified people were appointed to lead these agencies, we are entitled to know why. If people in the private sector lied to public officials, those lies must be uncovered and the liars prosecuted
It is easy to find a scapegoat. Today’s Post editoral, unjustifiably calls for Commissioner Scoppetta’s dismissal. Mr. Scoppetta is an honorable public official, who has served many mayors with distinction. He is not a professional firefighter, his skills are in management and human relations.
The Fire Department has been known over the years for hostility between labor and management, antagonism to the mayor, and instances of crude, boorish and drunken behavior. At the same time firefighters demonstrate great courage and self-sacrifice, taking enormous personal risks to rescue civilians. It has a management structure in which civil service examinations are administered for the highest positions in the agency, thus limiting the commissioner’s authority to change personnel. This can be either good or bad, but usually is an impediment to change and reform.
Many privileges of firefighters are protected by the State Legislature, with whom firefighters’ unions and lobbyists have long been cozy. The combination of union power, archaic civil service regulations and legislative interference circumscribes the authority which a commissioner should rightfully exercise. We do not believe Mr. Scoppetta is at fault in this tragedy, and we trust Mayor Bloomberg will not offer him up as a sacrifice.
As for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, we were quite unfamiliar with Avi Schick, who was appointed chairman of the LMDC board, a position formerly held by John C. Whitehead, who had been co-chairman of Goldman Sachs and Deputy Secretary of State under Secretary George Shultz.
On April 22, 2005, Whitehead wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal, titled MR. SPITZER HAS GONE TOO FAR-POST-9/11 NY CANNOT AFFORD TO DRIVE AWAY CORPORATE INVESTORS, criticizing then Attorney General Spitzer for publicizing allegations of financial misconduct against Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, then chairman of AIG (American International Group, an insurance giant). On reading the article, Spitzer telephoned Whitehead in Texas and said, according to Whitehead’s notes, “Mr. Whitehead, it’s now a war between us and you fired the first shot. I will be coming after you. You will pay the price. This is only the beginning and you will pay dearly for what you have done. You will wish you had never written that letter.” The conversation became public on December 22, 2005 when Mr. Whitehead apparently fired his second shot in another opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal titled SCARY.
Avi Schick, a 40-year-old attorney, has written articles about school vouchers, the Bill of Rights and religious discrimination. On behalf of Attorney General Spitzer, he argued the case in the Appellate Division against Richard Grasso, former chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. He graduated from the Mirrer Yeshiva Central Institute and Columbia Law School. The Sun reported that he was Mr. Spitzer’s unofficial representative to the Orthodox community. Schick fights for tax credits for religious school tuition as an alternative to private school vouchers.
Mr. Schick also argued in the tobacco settlement case. He knows separation (or non-separation) of church and state. He does not, however, appear to have a professional background in major real estate development, construction supervision, demolition or fire protection. Nor has he dealt with captains of industry or finance, as his predecessor Mr. Whitehead had.
By appointing him to fill Secretary Whitehead’s position on LMDC, Mr. Spitzer may have believed that he was making a point. In fact he made a point, but perhaps not the point he intended.
Competence tops revenge.