By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Family members of 9/11 victims are ramping up their efforts to save the World Trade Center sphere.
Michael Burke, whose brother was killed on 9/11, posted a petition online last week demanding that the dented, 25-foot sphere return to the Trade Center site to be part of the 9/11 memorial.
Burke's petition has already gathered more than 800 signatures, some from people who mentioned the names of loved ones who were killed.
"The Sphere is the symbol of Survival and Strength," wrote Laura Lassman, beside her virtual signature. "It must be brought home."
The Fritz Koenig sculpture once anchored the World Trade Center plaza but was damaged on 9/11 and now rests in Battery Park. The sphere has to leave Battery Park soon because of construction, and the Port Authority has not yet decided where it will go.
Burke has been begging memorial officials for years to move the sphere back to the Trade Center site. However, Burke said the officials have told him they do not want any 9/11 artifacts cluttering the 8-acre memorial plaza, which will have 400 trees and waterfalls in the tower footprints.
"It's landscaping over 9/11 at Ground Zero," said Burke, whose brother, FDNY Capt. William F. Burke, was killed. "It's not what the families want."
Unless the sphere returns to the World Trade Center, Burke plans on calling for 9/11 family members to boycott the memorial on the 10th anniversary of the attacks this fall.
The Port Authority is considering putting the sphere in the new Liberty Park just south of the World Trade Center site, but the park won't be ready until at least 2013, so the sphere may have to go into storage in the meantime, a source told DNAinfo last month.
At a town hall meeting about the World Trade Center Wednesday night, Rosemary Cain, whose son was killed on 9/11, asked rebuilding officials to return the sphere to the site.
"It is a message of resilience," said Cain, who spoke while holding a large framed photo of her son George Cain, a firefighter. "I would love to see it back where it belongs."
Chris Ward, executive director of the Port Authority, replied that he agrees the sphere is important, but he did not commit to returning it to the heart of the Trade Center site.
"We're confident we will find an appropriate place [for the sphere] downtown," Ward said.