LOWER MANHATTAN — President Barack Obama thanked the construction workers rebuilding the World Trade Center and marveled at the progress on the site during a visit Thursday afternoon.
Obama — who was in town for a pair of pricey fundraisers hosted by Sarah Jessica Parker and Mariah Carey — also signed his name on a 28-foot, 6.5-ton steel beam that will soon rise to the top of One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the city.
"I just want to say thanks to all the ironworkers and all the people who built this incredible structure," Obama told several dozen hardhatted workers, with first lady Michelle Obama, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Mayor Michael Bloomberg at his side. "We couldn't be prouder of you guys. This is what the American spirit is all about."
Above his signature, in red marker on the white-painted beam, Obama wrote, "We remember / We rebuild / We come back stronger!"
Obama also toured the 22nd floor of One World Trade Center with Bloomberg, Cuomo, Christie and the leaders of the Port Authority, peering out at the 9/11 Memorial and the rest of the Trade Center site.
After signing the beam and shaking hands with many of the construction workers building the tower, Obama waved goodbye to them, saying, "Great job — keep it up!"
Several workers said they were touched by Obama's appreciation.
"It makes you feel good," said Brian Leonard, 40, an electrician from Queens. "What we're doing here really means something."
Vasilkah Williams, 52, a construction worker from Brooklyn who wore an Obama T-shirt to meet the president, was beaming after he leaned down to hug her.
"Awesome," Williams said. "Knowing that what we're doing here, bringing back history — he said what a wonderful job we did."
Williams also spoke to Michelle Obama, who told her, "A woman in construction — beautiful," Williams said.
The president's visit to the site started with a trip to the 22nd floor of One World Trade Center, where renderings and maps of the site sat on easels. Port Authority officials, together with Cuomo and Christie, walked Obama through the drawings, gesturing out the floor-to-ceiling windows to show how the pieces of the site fit together. Bloomberg, who has had his disagreements with the president, stood off to the side.
Obama asked several questions about what he saw, and, as he turned to face the 9/11 Memorial, with waterfalls thundering into the footprints of the Twin Towers, he called the sight "powerful." Obama and the First Lady lingered by the window after the other politicians moved on, and Obama briefly put his arm around his wife.
In a lighter moment, Obama joked with construction workers about how they keep their balance on narrow steel beams, and he and Cuomo talked about the building of Battery Park City just west of the World Trade Center, and how much the area has changed in the past several decades.
After the World Trade Center visit, Obama was set to attend an intimate $40,000-per-person fundraising dinner at Parker's West Village townhouse, hosted by the "Sex and the City" star. Obama's final stop was scheduled to be a 250-person fundraiser at The Plaza Hotel at Fifth Avenue and Central Park South, which featured a performance by singer Carey. Tickets cost $10,000 apiece.
The president's visit caused traffic disruptions throughout Lower Manhattan and Midtown and shut down World Trade Center PATH trains between 3 and 6 p.m. Many bus lines were also rerouted.
Thursday marked Obama's third visit to the World Trade Center since he became president. The tone was less somber than his previous two trips, which marked the killing of Osama bin Laden last spring and the 10th anniversary of 9/11 last fall.