Allied at the start line

| 25 Jul 2016 | 04:04

It’s been a battle of wills downtown. For years, an organization and a local governing board have gone head-to-head over permits. That conflict appears to be a thing of the past.

To honor Stephen Siller, a firefighter killed in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Siller’s cousin, John Hodge, and Siller’s brother, Frank Siller, formed The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. The main event hosted by this nonprofit is a 5K run and walk that follows the path that Siller ran from Brooklyn side of the Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center on that clear September morning 15 years ago. About 30,000 people have participated in the run/walk annually in recent years. Hodge, the organization’s chief operating officer, runs Tunnel to Towers not only to keep the memory of his cousin alive, but also to honor the memories of all others killed on 9/11.

“Stephen is representative of what all the first responders did that day,” Hodge said. “We do it in honor of all of them. There have been so many tragedies in the past few months. Where have you heard of hundreds if not thousands of first responders rushing in to save the lives of people they don’t even know? People ran into buildings knowing it wouldn’t turn out well, but I don’t know if they even cared. It was a uniquely American response. And we wanted to make sure people never forgot.”

Each year, permit approvals for the 5K event come from CB1, often with caveats. There are restrictions placed on drinking and music and cautions against interfering with traffic or business. In 2014, Hodge agreed not to apply for a temporary liquor license.

Hodge said the group and its organizers often felt like outsiders, and that some portion of the downtown community objected to the event.

Finally, it seems that the conflicts may be behind them. For September’s race, CB1 has decided to form a “neighbors team” to participate in the event, led by CB1 treasurer, Tom Goodkind.

Goodkind is a friend of the organization, as he and Hodge have only good things to say about each other publicly. “For years, we neighbors have been watching the run and after party of the Tunnel to Towers run which occurs in our own backyard, hoping to be invited. And now we are,” Goodkind said by email. “Many of us who live near the World Trade Center ran for our lives on September 11 and then returned after months, and sometimes years of displacement to rebuild the area. We have always wanted a way to memorialize what occurred on that day and have never been invited to participate in the actual memorial on 9/11. The Tunnel to Towers run, which occurs a few weeks after 9/11 is without question the most successful and meaningful memorial of that day. And now for the 15th anniversary, we are so happy to have been invited to participate.”

He encouraged downtown residents to participate.

Hodge also was grateful for the improved relations.

“If we had some rough patches I think they’re over with at this point, and the outward sign of that is that there seems to be wholehearted support from CB1 for having a neighbors’ team sign up,” he said. “They have a difficult job. I think we’re past our rough patches because we’re working collaboratively together. We’re able to provide them with what they’re looking for. We try to interfere with the daily operations of the community as little as possible.”

When asked if the change in leadership at CB1 — Catherine McVay Hughes recently stepped down as chairperson and was succeeded by Anthony Notaro — would have any effect on the budding relationship, Hodge spoke well of the new man in charge. “Mr. Notaro has always been a gentleman to me and has not been unreasonable. There’s been logic behind it and that’s part of being good neighbors. Having the community become involved in our run means a tremendous amount to the foundation because at times in the past we felt as if we were interlopers for the day, and maybe somewhat resented. Now they’re recognizing us as a 9/11 organization they can be proud of.”

McVay Hughes had a positive view, saying in an email “personally, this is a great event that continues to bring many folks together for a worthwhile cause from all over. Last year, I saw a very long line of participants who were taking the ferry from Pier 11 to Brooklyn for the starting point.”

Because Tunnel to Towers goes through Battery Park City, the organization need to present to CB1’s Battery Park committee to get their permits approved. Only with that committee’s approval do the requests make it to CB1 as a whole. “We’ve approved the event every year,” Notaro said. “When there were times that we’ve asked them to make changes, they’ve been very accommodating. [The 5K] should be fun. it will be interesting to see how many people register. I think it’s a wonderful new part of the event to have our neighbors represented there.”