EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — In the face of Democratic criticism about his campaign’s use of September 11 images, President Bush yesterday participated in a groundbreaking ceremony for a new memorial about 30 miles from ground zero.
The president bowed his head as a rabbi and a Roman Catholic priest led a short prayer at the site of the planned memorial, located at Eisenhower Park in Nassau County, home to 281 persons killed in the nearby terrorist attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives.
Although Mr. Bush made no remarks at the ceremony, he said earlier in the day that the September 11 attacks had stunned the United States.
“It was a devastating blow, a blow to our psychology,” he said at an auto-parts plant. “This nation rallied. It rallied in large part thanks to the citizens of the great state of New York, because they refused to be intimidated by terror.”
Monsignor Thomas Hartman offered a prayer “that those who come here might be inspired not to terrorism or violence, but rather to love and to peace and faith.”
Rabbi Marc Gellman said the memorial is significant because “in the end, it is more important to build a memorial near the places where they lived than it is to build a memorial near the places where they died.”
After shoveling a scoop of dirt in the ceremony, the president, accompanied by New York Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, and former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a Republican, spent more than 30 minutes shaking hands and taking photos with relatives of those who perished in the attacks.
The president’s re-election campaign has come under fire from Democrats and some victims’ families for using images from September 11 in commercials. The ads show a demolished World Trade Center tower building behind an American flag and firefighters carrying a flag-draped coffin.
Patricia Perry of Long Island, who lost her son, John William Perry, said she respected the president’s decision to attend the ceremony yesterday and was not offended by the ads.
“I personally think he could done something else, but it doesn’t bother me. It’s public property now,” said Mrs. Perry, who first met the president at ground zero three days after the attacks. Her son was a police officer resigning that day, but he returned and retrieved his badge “and he never came back,” she said.
But Pat Kiefer, holding a picture of her firefighter son Michael, who died in the attacks, was less forgiving of Mr. Bush.
“I have no faith in any of them,” she said. “I blame my country as much anyone else who flew those planes. That’s my boy and they took him away from me, and I’ll never forgive them for that.”
Ernest Strada, the mayor of Westbury, Long Island, and wife Mary Anne lost their son Thomas, who was on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower when a jet crashed into the building.
The mayor said he had no problem with Mr. Bush using September 11 imagery in campaign ads.
“It’s important that everybody in the country, led by the president, continue to remember what happened 21/2 years ago,” Mr. Strada said. “I think the memory of that has waned since it occurred.”
The mayor also said he is “really disappointed — appalled — at some elected officials for the attacks on the president for the way he feels about the importance of us remembering” September 11.
“We’re not only here to support our son, we’re here to support the president and to feel good about ourselves.”
Rosemary Cain of Massapequa held a large poster of her son George Cain, a 35-year-old firefighter killed in the attack.
“Anything that memorializes the victims of 9/11 is right and good,” said Mrs. Cain, adding that “it angers me that they are flapping over” the imagery in the Bush ads.
“President Bush displayed courage and tenacity. He brought this city together and this country together,” she said. “He deserves to be able to speak on September 11th.”