MANHATTAN — Joe Connor, whose father was killed in a terrorist bombing in Lower Manhattan four decades ago, said he was “sickened” to see City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito using her “precious moments” with Pope Francis to champion a leader of the group responsible for his father’s death.
Connor was 9 years old when his father and three others were killed in a lunchtime blast that destroyed Fraunces Tavern on Jan. 24, 1975.
The explosion was one of more than 120 bombings carried out by Puerto Rican nationalist group FALN across the U.S., including simultaneous New Year's Eve 1982 explosions at the FBI’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan and at 1 Police Plaza, where four officers were seriously injured.
“She is an elected New York official and instead of asking the Pope to help all kinds of needy people in New York, she advocated for someone whose terror group killed New Yorkers,” Connor said.
Mark-Viverito — an outspoken supporter of convicted FALN leader Oscar Lopez Rivera — proudly showed in a string of tweets last Friday that she presented the Pope with a portrait drawn by Rivera when the Pontiff visited an East Harlem school in her district.
She also gave Pope Francis a letter from Rivera with the apparent hope of gaining papal support for his release from federal prison in Indiana, where she visited Rivera three times this year.
“Oscar has told me he is encouraged by @Pontifex message of reconciliation, building bridges & dialogue as a way of overcoming hostilities,” she tweeted.
“I agreed that I would attempt to present the painting as a gift to @Pontifex during his visit. Today was that moment,” she wrote.
“@Pontifex more than gracious w/ his time,” she wrote, “His interest piqued when I shared that gift was from a prisoner I visited in jail,” she tweeted.
@Pontifex asked if I still visited. Said yes. Asked me to thank him. Said I would. As we parted, I asked for a prayer for Oscar."
She apparently did not explain why he was in prison.
Rivera is serving 70 years for sedition and conspiracy to transport explosives with intent to destroy government property, among other charges.
He remains behind bars because he refused to accept clemency from then President Bill Clinton in 1999 that included denouncing violence and not associating with the more than a dozen other comrades who accepted the offer.
(Years later, Rivera claimed he declined clemency because it was not offered to a codefendant and FALN leader, Carlos Torres, and now would accept it.)
Looking at the tweets by Mark-Viverito, Connor said he could not help but feel “it was hypocritical” for the speaker, who is admittedly not a religious person, to use the rare opportunity her job afforded to “of all things” bring up Rivera.
“Is that what you really want from your government official?” asked Connor, who also lost a second cousin on 9/11 who was his father's godson.
Asked what Mark-Viverito would say to FALN terror victims, spokesman Pedro Julio Serrano, said in an e-mail that “The Speaker does not and has never condoned violence.”
In the 1982 New Year’s Eve bombings in Lower Manhattan, an NYPD bomb squad detective was among the victims. He lost much of his eyesight.
Michael Palladino, the president of the detective’s union, said he was not surprised Council Speaker Mark-Viverito used her time with the Pope on Rivera.
But he said, “with all the things going on in the world today, you would think that the speaker would be seeking God’s forgiveness for [Rivera's] sins — and not to pray to help win his release.”