domingo, julio 13, 2014
Panameños que nos honran
Ernesto Butcher, Who Managed Port Authority After 9/11, Dies at 69 By PAUL VITELLOMAY 22, 2014 Photo http://static01.nyt.com/images/2014/05/22/nyregion/Butcher-Obit/Butcher-Obit-master675.jpg Ernesto Butcher, in 1991, near the George Washington Bridge. CreditEddie Hausner/The New York Times Ernesto Butcher, a soft-spoken Panamanian immigrant who effectively took over management of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as its most experienced surviving operations officer, died on May 15 in Maplewood, N.J. He was 69. He apparently had a heart attack while jogging near his home, his wife, Kristen Peck, said in confirming the death. Among the more than 2,700 people killed that day at the World Trade Center, where the authority had its headquarters, 84 were agency employees. One, Neil Levin, the executive director, was Mr. Butcher’s boss. As chief operating officer, Mr. Butcher marshaled thousands of managers and employees scattered throughout the region, took charge of closing the gateways to New York City and established a temporary headquarters for the agency in Jersey City on Sept. 11. Two days later, while taking phone calls from frantic relatives of 150 authority employees initially reported missing, and with a go-ahead from the police, Mr. Butcher gave the signal to reopen the system: resuming operations at Kennedy, La Guardia and Newark Airports; the George Washington Bridge; two Hudson River tunnels; the shipping terminals of Brooklyn, Jersey City and Newark; and a dozen other facilities run by his agency. “I’m here today to assure the people of New York and New Jersey, and throughout the world, that the Port Authority is open for business,” he said at a news conference on Sept. 13. Ronald Shiftan, who as Mr. Levin’s deputy was later appointed acting executive director, ceded operational authority in the following months to Mr. Butcher. Mr. Butcher delivered eulogies at 84 funerals and memorial services for authority employees. Fearing that exhaustion would compromise the system, he urged agency employees not to volunteer in their off hours during the workweek at the site of the collapsed towers. Ken Philmus, who was director of tunnels and bridges at the time, said in an interview: “My toll collectors were working a full shift, then going downtown to work on the pile, working around the clock. Ernesto understood it. But with him, the public interest always had to come first. Our job was to keep the system running.” After being named chief operating officer in 1999, Mr. Butcher, a career civil servant at the authority, served under a dozen board chairmen, executive directors and deputy executives, all appointed by either the governor of New York or the governor of New Jersey under a power-sharing arrangement. But beginning in 2010, he told his family, political appointees seemed to be pushing him toward the door. Mr. Butcher complained to his boss, Christopher Ward, the authority’s executive director, that two appointees of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey — Bill Baroni, the deputy executive director, and his lieutenant, David Wildstein — had excluded Mr. Butcher from meetings as they undertook to trim the agency’s roughly $8 billion annual budget. Both Mr. Butcher and Mr. Ward found themselves blamed by unidentified Port Authority officials, quoted by newspapers, for cost overruns in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center, employee overtime expenses, and large bridge and tunnel toll increases in 2011. Mr. Ward, who was widely credited with jump-starting development of the stalled trade center site after being appointed in 2008, resigned in 2011. Mr. Butcher, who had planned to retire at the end of 2012, retired instead in April that year, ending a 41-year career at the authority. Advertisement “He had nothing to do with those budgets,” Mr. Ward said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “It is unconscionable for a man of Ernesto’s integrity to be forced to end his distinguished career under a cloud.” Mr. Baroni and Mr. Wildstein, both of whom resigned from the Port Authority last year over their involvement in the controversy involving the shutdown lanes at the George Washington Bridge, did not respond to requests for comment. “ ‘Bridgegate’ would not have happened if Ernesto had still been there,” Mr. Ward said. Ernesto Leonardo Butcher was born on Aug. 9, 1944, in Colon, Panama, a Caribbean seaport near the Panama Canal. His father, Lorenzo, worked in canal operations. His mother, Naomi, died when Ernesto was 4. Soon after his father remarried, Mr. Butcher was sent to live with relatives, ending up with an aunt in Brooklyn. He graduated from Boys High School (now Boys and Girls High School) in Brooklyn and Hunter College, where he studied psychology and literature. After serving with the Peace Corps in South Korea, where he became fluent in Korean, he received a graduate degree in international affairs from the University of Pittsburgh. Besides his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Mijha Butcher Godfrey; a granddaughter; and three stepchildren. Before becoming chief operating officer, Mr. Butcher was manager of the George Washington Bridge, director of bridges and tunnels and head of several other departments. The introduction of E-ZPass, electronic highway signage, light rail AirTrains to Kennedy and Newark Airports, and the decade-long stripping and repainting of the George Washington Bridge happened on his watch. When Mr. Butcher was manager of the Port Authority bus terminal in the mid-1980s, he rid it of drug addicts and prostitutes by persuading state officials to send him social workers; they helped place most of the bus terminal’s vagrant population in rehabilitation programs and halfway houses. “We wanted to provide an alternative, not compound the problem,” he said.
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