After the 9/11 Attacks, Boston Found a Focus for Its Anger

BOSTON — Virginia Buckingham remembers the second when she realized that she had been singled out. She had stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts on her method into Logan International Airport, which she oversaw as the high official at the Massachusetts Port Authority. As she stood in line, a man behind her whispered to his buddy, “That’s her.”

The week earlier than, terrorists had boarded two jets at Logan, hijacked them, and flew them into the Twin Towers. The metropolis’s newspapers had plunged into reporting on the airport’s safety file, and into her, a political appointee. But nobody had been fired but, and the columnists had been getting antsy.

“When do the heads start to roll at Massport?” wrote Howie Carr at The Boston Herald. “It’s been over a week now, and Ginny Buckingham still isn’t a stay-at-home mom.”

Over at The Boston Globe, Joan Vennochi chided the governor for dragging her ft. “Somewhere in Afghanistan,” she wrote, “Osama bin Laden is laughing at what passes for leadership in Massachusetts.”

While New York and Washington had been targeted on catastrophe websites, Boston was fighting a horrible fact: Its airport had served as the launching pad for the two planes that destroyed the World Trade Center.

Boston was not bodily broken on Sept. 11. But it was broken. The hijacked planes had been filled with its folks. I used to be a reporter at The Globe, and I spent a part of that day at a lodge bar close to Logan Airport, the place American Airlines flight attendants had been sobbing so overtly that a bartender climbed out from behind the bar to hug them.


Airline staff grieved at a vigil exterior Boston City Hall the day after the terrorist assaults.Credit…Ira Wyman/Sygma, by way of Getty Images

The incontrovertible fact that the planes got here from Boston was a supply of disgrace. Shreds of guilt clung to many airport employees — to the ticket agent who checked in Mohamed Atta, to the flight attendant who referred to as in sick. I bear in mind a pilot, carrying a black ribbon of mourning, worrying that the rage and grief would mutate into one thing accusatory. “This isn’t an airport problem,” he mentioned, “it’s a world problem.”

In Boston — in contrast to New York, Washington and Portland, Maine, the different communities the place terrorists boarded planes — it was seen as an airport downside. And right here, there was an expectation that officers could be sacked.

No proof ever emerged that failures by airport officers contributed to the assaults: At the time, field cutters, the weapons the terrorists used, had been authorized to hold on planes, and airways, not airports, dealt with safety checkpoints. But in the depth of that second, that didn’t matter. Joseph Lawless, the airport’s director of safety, who had previously labored as a driver to a Massachusetts governor, was transferred two and a half weeks after the assaults. A month after that, Ms. Buckingham resigned underneath strain.

Eventually, journalists moved on. But Ms. Buckingham couldn’t. Twenty years later, she stays pained by her remedy these six weeks, one thing she described in a new memoir, “On My Watch.” At 36, her profession in politics was completed. Though she had misplaced her job, her position as the head of the company drew her into wrongful dying lawsuits that continued for a decade. She sought remedy for melancholy and PTSD.

And for years, she heard from strangers who blamed her for the assaults. “So, when are you going to apologize for 9/11?” requested a man who referred to as her desk years later. “When are you going to apologize so this city can move on?” Her ideas grew to become so tangled that she started to ask herself whether or not it actually was her fault.

Mr. Lawless mentioned he wouldn’t remark for this text, out of respect for the victims.

‘This ain’t bean bag’

It is not possible to know this story exterior the context of Massachusetts politics, which is famously rough-and-tumble.

On the morning when two Boston planes destroyed the World Trade Center, the performing governor of Massachusetts was Jane Swift, 36, who had been elevated to the place when Paul Cellucci was made ambassador to Canada. Asked to recall this era, Ms. Swift recalled an previous aphorism about politics: “This ain’t bean bag,” a normal response to these wounded by unfavourable campaigning. It means, principally, “stop complaining.”

Ms. Swift, a Republican, was a punching bag for the information media, amongst different causes for asking aides to babysit and utilizing a state helicopter to get residence to western Massachusetts. She was at all times alert to the place the subsequent roundhouse blow is perhaps coming from. It was a “dirty little secret,” for instance, that the quickest land path to Boston required a transient detour over New York roads.

“I used to say to my state troopers, ‘If you crash and I die, you drag my dead carcass over the line, because we’re all in so much trouble,” she mentioned.

Among the first questions Ms. Swift thought-about as she raced eastward on the morning of Sept. 11, she mentioned, was find out how to restore confidence in Logan Airport, given the new menace of terror assaults on home soil.

“When I left my house — before knowing it was a terror attack, before the towers fell — I knew we had a Massport issue,” she mentioned.

That thought led on to Ms. Buckingham, who had been appointed two years earlier, by Mr. Cellucci. The Port Authority, as Ms. Swift put it, had an “earned reputation as being run by political appointees, not airport expertise.”

ImageMs. Buckingham, proper, listened to the Logan International Airport’s aviation director, Thomas Kinton, throughout a briefing on Sept. 12, 2001.Credit…Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe, by way of Getty Images

Ms. Buckingham fell into that class. She was an previous hand at State House politics; she had served as chief of workers to 2 governors, and press secretary to at least one. But she had no background in transportation or safety. She was 33 and, like Ms. Swift, a new mom. “What, Gidget wasn’t available?” Mr. Carr, at The Herald, cracked at the time.

On the morning of the assaults, Ms. Buckingham was on her approach to Washington to fulfill with the head of the Federal Aviation Administration, in hopes of receiving federal approval for a new runway, a aim that had topped Massport’s agenda for three a long time.

She remembers striding previous teams of staff glued to tv screens, then standing completely nonetheless in entrance of her desk, her arms wrapped round her, taking in the looping tv footage of the planes hitting the buildings. Then the towers had fallen, and her deputy was at the door, his mouth open, arms gripping the body as if for help.

“They’re gone,” he mentioned.

The airport’s director of operations got here in to inform her what had occurred on American Airlines Flight 11; a flight attendant had referred to as from the again of the aircraft. Ms. Buckingham remembers placing her arms in entrance of her mouth, after which, as he continued the story, gasping audibly.

“They used a box cutter,” the airport’s director of operations instructed her.

“What’s a box cutter?” she requested.

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‘Logan brass should atone’

On Sept. 12, Governor Swift made it clear that a shake-up was coming at the airport.

“Terrorists got onto a plane, so obviously there was a problem,” she mentioned. She added, in the days that adopted, that she was not “going to get into assigning blame at this point,” and would wait for the outcomes of an F.B.I. investigation.

“There’s nobody in America who wouldn’t have changed something if they thought that they could have prevented the enormous loss and tragedy,” she mentioned.

Still, a course of had been set in movement.

There is a predictable course to a public sacking, and Ms. Buckingham may acknowledge its landmarks as they handed. Reporters started asking if she would step down. An aide instructed her to not contact the governor straight. The governor introduced the creation of a fee to reform the Port Authority.

And the papers took up the trigger. The Herald, Boston’s scrappy tabloid, ran a ballot asking voters whether or not she ought to resign or be fired. The Globe, Boston’s crusading broadsheet, dug into a fertile matter, the historical past of patronage hiring at the Port Authority, publishing about 90 articles referring to that matter over the subsequent three months.

As the weeks handed with no firings, the protection grew heated. Some writers drew a direct connection between the airport officers and the assaults.

Image“When I left my home — earlier than figuring out it was a terror assault, earlier than the towers fell — I knew we had a Massport problem,” mentioned Jane Swift, the state’s governor at the time.Credit…Cindy Schultz for The New York Times

“It cannot be an accident that terrorists thought they could board not one, but two airplanes at Logan. For nearly a decade, no one running Logan truly cared or was even capable of caring,” wrote Derrick Z. Jackson, a Globe columnist. “The fact that Buckingham and Lawless are still in control is a sick joke. Until they are fired, Massachusetts is telling the nation that 6,000 deaths and declarations of war do not matter.”

Others, like The Herald’s Margery Eagan, acknowledged that airport managers had been to not blame for the assaults.

“But it doesn’t matter, because two hijacked airplanes left 6,000 people dead in New York and those two planes came out of Logan,” she wrote. “And now Boston is like the new Dallas, a city reviled so many years ago because it let an assassin climb up into the Texas School Book Depository and open fire.” The column was headlined, “Logan Brass Should Atone by Resigning.”

Few public figures got here to Ms. Buckingham’s protection, recalled Thomas Kinton, who was the airport’s director of aviation. “She was radioactive,” he mentioned. “You didn’t want to touch her. You didn’t even want to be seen with her.”

Mr. Kinton emerged as a star throughout this era, and ultimately grew to become Massport’s chief govt. At his retirement, in 2011, he was praised for steering the airport by the troublesome interval after the assaults. He remembers the protection of Ms. Buckingham as relentless.

“Boston is a city — not that I’ve lived anywhere else — I have this saying, they eat their young here,” he mentioned. “It’s a strange place, that when they get their fangs into you they don’t let go. They want to take people down. It happens all the time.”

By late October, Ms. Buckingham felt her selections had narrowed. Her husband, David Lowy, urged her to resign, quite than wait to be fired.

ImageMs. Buckingham talking in the wake of her resignation in October 2001.Credit…Boston Herald, by way of Getty Images

“I just wanted the barrage to stop,” mentioned Mr. Lowy, now an affiliate choose on the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. “It’s very hard to watch that happen to somebody that you love.”

On Oct. 25, Ms. Buckingham referred to as a information convention and resigned. She didn’t take any questions. After her final day of labor, she moved to her in-laws’ condominium to get away from the digital camera crews camped exterior her door.

‘We were all rolling down the same hill’

As time handed, it grew to become much less believable in charge anybody specifically for the carnage of Sept. 11.

The 9/11 Commission report, launched in 2004, targeted on failures in the sphere of intelligence. Nothing distinguished Logan’s checkpoint screenings, it concluded, from these at some other airport; the terrorists had chosen Logan for causes of comfort.

The lawsuits progressively petered out. In 2011, a federal choose in New York dismissed the final wrongful-death lawsuit towards Massport, on the foundation that safety screenings had been at that time the accountability of the airways, not the airport.

But if Ms. Buckingham was exonerated, she by no means felt that method.

Life went on: She had a second little one. She discovered a therapist who specialised in trauma. She acquired a new job, writing editorials at The Herald, then left for a company job at Pfizer, the pharmaceutical firm. She took early retirement. She dropped her youngest off in school.

ImageMs. Buckingham exterior the Logan Airport 9/11 Memorial this month.Credit…Cody O’Loughlin for The New York Times

Throughout, as she described in her memoir, she struggled with guilt, disgrace and traumatic reminiscences. She approached the relations of Sept. 11 victims with stomach-turning anxiousness, terrified they blamed her. Years later, when she printed a cheery column about winter swimming, a reader responded by reminding her of “the intense heat people at the upper floors of WTC were feeling 9/11; hot enough to jump 100 stories if that’s hot enough for you.”

“I lost 15 years, is how I feel about it, in terms of my being fully present in my life,” she mentioned.

Boston can really feel like a small city, so it’s not unusual for her to run into individuals who had been concerned in her elimination, or the protection of it.

That occurred in 2004, when Carl Stevens, a reporter with WBZ NewsRadio, approached her in a grocery retailer in Swampscott and instructed her he had gone together with the crowd in his reporting, and apologized.

“Things happen within that certain time and place that you look back on it and say, ‘What the hell was that all about?’” Mr. Stevens mentioned in an interview. “When I think of the media at that particular time and place, I think of the metaphor of the snowball — we were all rolling down the same hill, within the context of the fear and anger that we felt at the time.”

“At some point,” he added, “the momentum slowed down and the snowball stopped rolling, and people started to ask: ‘Why did we bomb Iraq again? And why was Ginny Buckingham blamed for the deaths of 3,000 people?’”

ImageCarl Stevens, a reporter with WBZ NewsRadio, apologized to Ms. Buckingham when he bumped into her at a grocery retailer in 2004.Credit…Cody O’Loughlin for The New York Times

I wrote to half a dozen editors, reporters and columnists whereas I used to be making ready this text to ask how they seen the protection looking back. Just a few responded. Frank Phillips, who covers the State House for The Globe, described the protection as “hysteria” that falsely linked the downside of patronage to the occasions of Sept. 11. Joshua Resnek, who was then the writer of native newspapers in East Boston, Revere and different neighborhoods, mentioned he had “jumped on the bandwagon,” and was sorry.

“She took the hit, and it’s regrettable, because she was probably a competent lady,” he mentioned. “At that time, everything pointed to someone having to take a hit.”

Mr. Jackson, from The Globe, mentioned it was “definitely possible that she became a scapegoat when other people could or should have been held accountable.” He added, “It's also true she was part of this infrastructure that was highly flawed.”

Mr. Carr stood by his protection, saying patronage had infested the company for years. “If you live by patronage, you die by patronage,” he mentioned. “Methinks she doth protest too much.”

Ms. Swift suspended her marketing campaign for governor round six months after Sept. 11 and by no means ran for workplace once more. She mentioned that she is at peace with the choices she made, and that she had by no means, at any level, blamed Ms. Buckingham.

“I have been crystal clear — privately, publicly — since the day this happened of who I hold responsible for 9/11, and it is the terrorists and the people who financed and directed them,” she mentioned. But maintaining a former political operative at the helm of a main airport after the assaults, she mentioned, “in that atmosphere of fear, was impossible.”

As for Ms. Buckingham, she has had years to contemplate the query of why, in these weeks of confusion and horror, Boston swung its consideration to her. She has landed on the single, horrible incontrovertible fact that these two planes left from Logan Airport.

“The magnitude of what was launched here was so terrifying — it made people so angry — that they needed a place to put that anger and fear,” she mentioned. “I was an easy target.”