Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 19, 1999


Farley Building
New York, New York

11:55 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Chairman Gargano. Governor, Secretary Slater, thank you all for all you have done to make this day come to pass. I thank the leaders of AmTrak, the MTA, the Port Authority, the Post Office, Mr. Peck, the Commissioner of Public Buildings; the distinguished architect who has drawn a beautiful plan.

Speaker Vallone, Mr. Green. Senator D'Amato, thank you for pushing this. And, Mrs. Moynihan, you haven't yet been acknowledged, but you had a lot to do with the arm-twisting on this, and I thank you, too. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Senator Moynihan has been called the nation's best thinker among politicians since Lincoln, and its best politician among thinkers since Jefferson. Today we might say he also may be the best arm-twister since Farley. (Laughter.) You know, it was said that Jim Farley actually knew the names of 50,000 people by heart. Pat Moynihan knows 50,000 ways to get any politician to do what he wants. (Laughter.)

I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the fact that he gave me an opportunity to be a small part of this day and this project. For decades he has worked to give voice to the dreams of New Yorkers, to create a new Penn Station truly worthy of the name and of this wonderful city.

If I can borrow a few words from the famous inscription on this building: Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night could have stopped Pat Moynihan from bringing this day to pass. (Applause.)

Throughout his public career, which has spanned so many different jobs in so many different places in the United States and abroad, Senator Moynihan has always cared about preserving our history and our spirit through our great buildings. Nearly 40 years ago, President Kennedy challenged him to revitalize Washington's Pennsylvania Avenue, to bring back civic pride to the heart of our Nation's Capital. He never gave up on that goal, a job he completed with the dedication of the Ronald Reagan Building a year ago this month.

Thirty-five years ago, when I went to Washington, D.C. for the first time as a wide-eyed college student, Pennsylvania Avenue was a mess and a disaster. Today, it is a tribute to our history, to our values and to our future, thanks to the vision of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Many people also forget that in addition to helping to rescue Union Station in Washington and Grand Central Station here -- which he was whispering in my ear about while we were waiting for our turn -- back in 1962, he authored the wise principles that got the federal government's architecture decisions today. In the words of your distinguished architect, David Childs, Senator Moynihan is a true inspiration to everyone working in architecture and urban design.

This latest project also, as he and others have said, is an example of how this Senator and his allies have also fundamentally changed the way we invest in transportation. He has secured vast resources not simply for concrete and for mass transit, but for communities, for historic preservation and for advanced technologies to meet the 21st century needs of America.

I thank him and Senator D'Amato and Secretary Slater for fighting to see that we did not turn the transportation bill in Washington into just another road-building bill, without any concerns for the needs of urban America and others who need mass transit, intermobile transportation, and a broader vision of how we will reconcile our desire to have livable, sustainable communities and to get around in a hurry. He did that, along with the others, and I thank them all. New York can be very, very proud of every one of them.

Let me finally say that this Penn Station -- I was astonished by how brief Senator Moynihan was, but I noticed that the closer he comes to getting his way, the shorter his speeches get. (Laughter and applause.) Back in '93, when he first talked to me about it, I got the whole load of wax, man. (Laughter.) I knew everybody -- I knew the people who had planted the explosives on Penn Station in the '60s. (Laughter.) I knew the whole history of the thing. And as we made progress, you know, his words became fewer as his satisfaction increased. But I think it's worth noting that this journey to this moment has not only been a public service, but a point of personal pride for this quintessential New Yorker and American.

Senator Moynihan grew up in this neighborhood, shined shoes around the corner. As a young ensign, he used to fall asleep in the rooms off Penn Station's grand ticketing hall as he waited for his train back to Norfolk. Grand public buildings like the old Penn Station and the New York Public Library, became like home, especially for a boy whose family kept moving to a new apartment just about every year.

I tell you this story not only to capture what this journey must mean for him, but to remind us of the fundamental significance of our great public buildings. Because whether you are a wealthy industrialist or just a person with a few dollars to your name, you can feel ennobled, as people did -- ordinary citizens and great ones alike, in the old glass and steel cathedral that was Penn Station. People without tickets could come to the old Penn Station in the afternoon just to dream about what it would be like to get on the train, and watching the crowds go by.

When I was a young man I used to go to train stations and watch people and wonder what they were doing, where they were going, and I always felt better when I walked out than when I walked in. I'll bet nearly everybody here has had a similar experience.

Now, Mr. Childs' design is not intended to replicate the old Penn Station, but it will have, as you see, the same stunning effect for everyone. Here in this beautiful McKim, Mead and White building the Postal Service has graciously now agreed to share, this design will take the best elements of the past and create a remarkable station for the future.

Of course, there will be some hurdles -- the environmental and historic preservation requirements, which I'm quite certain will be met -- but the other hurdle is money. One of Clinton's laws of politics is, if someone stands up and shakes his finger and says to you, this is not a money problem, he is almost always talking about someone else's problem. (Laughter.) I want to do what I can to help close the funding gap. I will ask the Congress to increase the federal commitment to this project by $60 million over the next three years. (Applause.)

As a tribute to Senator Moynihan, and because it's the right thing to do, I hope that members in both parties, in both Houses, will join with me to secure this funding. We're not quite there yet. Others will have to do more as well. But if we all do our part, we can honor one of the first great buildings of the 20th century and create the first great public building of the 21st century. In so doing, New York once again can provide a model for the entire nation.

The First Lady and I have worked very hard to help communities to honor the past and preserve it as part of our gift to the new millennium. Just today she awarded the first Save America's Treasures grants, to help meet urgent preservation needs across our nation, from conserving the second largest collection of Thomas Jefferson's personal correspondence, to restoring Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Ebenezer Baptist Church.

I know our nation is still young, and sometimes still we lose sight of the enormous value of the history that is embodied in our buildings, our documents, our artifacts, our monuments. We must do better in preserving the past, and in building new buildings and monuments we capture our vision of the future, the enduring commitment we have to our freedom, and the public space that makes community more possible, and reminds us of our common humanity across all the lines that divide us.

That is what this building will do. I hope at this moment of great prosperity and optimism for the United States, we will use the example of this project to redouble our determination to build great buildings and dream big dreams for the future.

Again, I want to thank all of you who never gave up on this ambitious project. I want to urge you never to give up on it until it is completely finished. And on behalf of Senator Moynihan, Senator D'Amato, myself, and all others who will be out of office when it is finally done, I hope you'll invite us to the building dedication.

Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)

END 112:10 P.M. EDT



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