For Manorhaven Mayor Jim Avena, Sept. 11 is always an emotional day.
“I probably knew 250 Cantor [Fitzgerald] employees who died on 9/11,” said Avena, who was serving as the company’s president in 2001. “I went to 48 memorial services and some of my closest friends died. For some reason, this year is even more emotional, and I don’t even know why.”
As mayor, he has continued the tradition of holding a memorial ceremony in the village every year. Since the memorial ceremonies began in 2012, a 9/11 memorial and walkway have been dedicated outside Village Hall. This year, a steel girder from the World Trade Center was dedicated next to those displays. It had previously been displayed in a case inside Village Hall.
Attendees were greeted by a giant American flag being hung in front of Village Hall by a pair of ladder trucks from the Port Washington Fire Department. They were intended to serve as a backdrop for the ceremony, but inclement weather forced the event indoors.
After the performance of the National Anthem by his granddaughter Ella, Avena opened the ceremony with a quote from a wife of one of the pilots who died.
“‘If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there’s no time for hate,'” he said. “Words to live by for all of us.”
In attendance was Bryan Vogeley, chief of the Port Washington Fire Department, and Port Washington Assistant Police Chief Jeff Morris, along with active and retired police, fire and military members. The bagpipe and “Taps” were played, although the rifle salute had to be canceled as it could not be performed indoors.
“We now have children who were too young or were not even born when this tragedy took place,” Vogeley said. “It is important that they learn and understand why we gather here every year.”
Following his remarks, a bell was rung after the names were read for each of the 10 Port Washington residents killed in the attacks.
Also in attendance were numerous local politicians. Aside from members of Manorhaven’s village government, they included state Sen. Elaine Phillips, state Assemblyman Anthony D’Urso, Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, Town of North Hempstead Councilwoman Dina De Giorgio and Town Clerk Wayne Wink.
Phillips said that it was a day of thanks, for those still here to express their gratitude to the people who keep us safe, and to remember those still suffering from the effects of working near Ground Zero.
De Giorgio said she hoped the country could recapture the unity felt in the days following the 2001 attacks.
“The aftermath of that horrible evil brought out the best in so many of us,” she said. “In the aftermath of 9/11, what united us was more important than what divided us. Can we say the same today? I’m not so sure. Tomorrow we can go out, and in the immortal words of Gandhi, be the change we wish to see in the world.”
Her message was echoed by DeRiggi-Whitton.
“I think it’s important that we never forget the values of America, that we love each other and accept each other,” DeRiggi-Whitton said.
Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at [email protected], by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance