On Sept. 11, 2001, then-White Plains Mayor Joseph M. Delfino was on his way to work when he heard about the terrorist attacks on New York City. After composing himself, he began contacting the city’s diverse clergy, and four days later, the city staged a candlelight vigil to honor the dead and demonstrate its resolve.
“It was the most emotional thing in my 12 years as mayor of this city,” Delfino said of seeing 7,000 people holding candles on Main Street.
“This was a time when all religions came together,” Delfino added, noting that the event had no political speeches, only spiritual ones. “Race, color, creed meant nothing,” he said. “Rich or poor, it was one world and we were going to pull together.”
That spirit was reinforced and remembered on Sunday, the 10th anniversary of the attacks, at the White Plains Public Library, as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other elected officials gathered at the New York Remembers exhibit in the library to pay tribute to the first responders who risked their lives and lost so many colleagues that day and for months and years afterward.
White Plains Mayor Thomas M. Roach addressed the audience first, saying it was an honor for White Plains to host the New York Remembers exhibit, and a “great privilege” to host the governor.
Roach, who has sons who are aged eight and 11, said that events like Sunday’s gathering help to ensure that events like 9/11 are never forgotten, and that those with no memory of them learn about them and contribute to the nation’s collective memory.
“As much as these exhibits bring us back to that day,” Mayor Roach said, “we must remember that there’s a large group of people who have no memory of that day: our children.”
Patricia and Mike Dispenza of White Plains, who both work for Westchester County, brought their 11-year-old son, Nicolas, to the event for that very reason. They said they wanted Nicolas to learn about what happened and to be inspired by the bravery and dedication of the first responders.
Assemblyman Robert J. Castelli alluded to the passage of time, saying “while many people say time heals all wounds, this wound left a gaping wound in the heart of America that will last forever.”
In addition to the “hapless” victims of that day who did nothing but show up for work, Castelli added, “I would ask that we remember those heroes of 9/11: our firefighters, our police officers, our emergency responders, and the ordinary citizens who at a time when everyone ran out, chose to run in and risk their lives to benefit and save their fellow man.” He also asked for remembrance of the thousands of members of the armed services who have given their lives “in the defense of our country” since the attacks.
Gov. Cuomo echoed some of Assemblyman Castelli’s thoughts about time healing all wounds. “I don’t know that it does,” he said. “I don’t know that we really want it to fully heal. I don’t think we want to lose the memory, or lose the spirit, because the spirit endures.”
But, he said, addressing the family members and first responders who lost loved ones and colleagues, “I hope after 10 years, you have found a way to comfort yourself with the situation. I hope you have found a way to find peace with the situation. I hope you have found a way to look back and honor the sacrifice and the contribution that was made that day towards this nation’s standing in freedom and liberty.”
White Plains Public Safety Commissioner David Chong, a first responder at the World Trade Center site that day as a then-member of the New York City Police Department, spoke of the strength of New Yorkers and the nation. “Ten years later,” he said, “I can stand here as a proud survivor and a public servant, and say ‘New York has recovered. Lower Manhattan is more vibrant than ever. The Freedom Tower will be bigger than ever. America has recovered. The Pentagon has been rebuilt.’”
More importantly, Chong said, “the terrorist networks are on the run. The demon responsible has been brought to justice by the best military force in the world. And the men and women who proudly wear the uniform of our first responders today, will do so willingly and are better prepared than ever.”
Chong closed by sharing a sentiment he said is held by and shared among first responders: “we did lose close to 3,000 people that day, but we saved well over 100,000. We came together; strangers became heroes, and we proved that we are, by far, the greatest nation in the world.”
Other elected officials at the event included members of the White Plains Common Council; Westchester County Legislator Bill Ryan and Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins; State Sens. Ruth Hassell-Thompson and Andrea Stewart-Cousins; Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Assemblymen Steve Katz and Mike Spano; and Tuckahoe Mayor Steve Ecklond.