Views as Diverse as New York

Shipping containers arrive at Port Newark in New Jersey, with the Manhattan skyline in the background.
Shipping containers arrive at Port Newark in New Jersey, with the Manhattan skyline in the background. "There's no patriotism involved. This is a business deal," a worker there said of an Arab firm's purchase of terminal operations. (By Chip East -- Reuters)
By Michael Powell and Michelle Garcia
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 25, 2006

NEW YORK, Feb. 24 -- The look and feel of a tempest depend very much on where you sit.

Kathryn Wylde, chief of the Partnership for New York City, a gold-plated chamber of commerce, sat in an office in Lower Manhattan and talked with two fellows from prominent global investment banks about the political effort to block a state-owned company from Dubai from running much of the Ports of New York and New Jersey.

They just shook their heads.

"We are a global capital, and if this sort of craziness prevails, it would be suicidal for our economic health," Wylde says, summing up the sentiment. "But here's the good news: We don't think this country is crazy enough to cancel the contract."

Now travel 30 blocks north, to the cruise piers along the Hudson River, where the seven-tiered Norwegian Dream has just slid into its berth. The dock is a frenzy: longshoremen tossing ropes, porters hauling luggage, passengers sitting on their bags awaiting taxis. The view from here was pretty sour.

"Am I concerned? Yeah, it's nuts ," said white-mustachioed Joseph Cialone, 58, just back with his wife from a cruise through the eastern Caribbean. "I spent 30 years in the military, and I have a very big problem with turning port operations in my city over to a country where two of the 9/11 hijackers came from."

Cialone is not finished. "You want to say we're allies?" He snorts. "Right: We buy their oil and they buy our companies. That's not the same thing."

The political tumult stirred up by the port deal has left complications and confusion in its wake. Senators, House members, the governors of New York and New Jersey, and a mayor declaimed against the contract; President Bush parried; and in the end many New Yorkers appeared not entirely sure what to make of the furor. The most global city in the nation, blessed with a large and busy harbor, New York also nurses memories of enduring the worst terrorist attack in the nation, in 2001, an attack staged by 19 hijackers from the Middle East.

Those two facts are ingrained in this city and not easily reconciled.

"I remember when the Japanese bought Rockefeller Center and people were happy," Yvonne Swan, a recently retired ad saleswoman, said as she sat in the Second Wave Laundromat in Midtown. "This port contract wouldn't be a big thing if 9/11 hadn't happened."

Like a lot of people in vastly Democratic New York, she added, she feels it might not be such a big deal if "the president wasn't such an embarrassment."

Foreign newspapers have reported this story as a straightforward narrative of nativism vs. urbane internationalism, a struggle accompanied by more than a tinge of racism. And one can hear in some New York voices a touch of xenophobia, the sentiment that American ports should be run by American companies with American labor. Arab managers should stay away, according to this view.

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