A bipartisan group of five governors will fly to New York and Washington tomorrow and Monday to encourage Americans to put aside their fears and visit those cities - hard hit by a loss of visitors since the terrorist attacks there.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening will join the governors of Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee - as well as Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams - to take a commercial flight out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport to New York for a day of tourist activities there tomorrow, the Maryland governor's office said yesterday.
On Monday, the group will fly back to BWI - again using the public airways - for a day of sightseeing in Washington.
Glendening said the visits are intended to support President Bush's effort to stimulate the national economy - especially the airline industry - in the aftermath of the hijackings that led to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The other purpose, he said, was to show support for New York and Washington.
"We're saying that it's OK to play, it's OK to return to normal, it's OK to shop, it's OK to enjoy yourself," the governor said. "We have got to move forward or we're going to play into the hands of our enemies."
The chill since the attacks has had a devastating impact on the two cities. In New York, hotels that usually report occupancy levels of 85 percent to 90 percent this time of year are struggling to stay at 50 percent, forcing thousands of layoffs.
District of Columbia tourism officials have estimated that the drop in tourism after the Pentagon bombing is costing the region $10 million a day. Some Washington restaurants have been reporting that their business is down more than 50 percent.
Glendening expressed concern that Washington's woes are having a spillover effect in Maryland. "The economic health of the District of Columbia has a major impact on Maryland," he said.
State tourism director Hannah Byron said that while most of Maryland is holding up well, some Montgomery County hotels have been reporting occupancy levels as low as 30 percent.
Glendening said he had been considering making such a trip alone but thought it would have more impact as a group effort including governors from all around the Eastern United States. He said he has talked with Gov. Gray Davis of California about organizing a trip involving Western governors.
Besides Glendening, the governors who have confirmed plans to take the entire trip are Republicans Don Sundquist of Tennessee and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Democrats Paul Patton of Kentucky and Ronnie Musgrove of Mississippi.
The focus of the group's activities will be on tourism rather than tragedy.
Plans call for the group to visit a New York delicatessen, to go to Macy's at Herald Square for shop- ping and to meet New York Gov. George E. Pataki at a Times Square restaurant for drinks or a meal. That evening, the group plans to take in a show - a symbolic boost to Broadway, hard hit by the loss of tourists.
The group will take time out for a tribute to the dead, the missing, their families and the rescue workers by paying a visit to a firehouse that lost 12 firefighters.
After spending the night in New York, the group is expected to appear Monday morning on Today with Katie Couric and perhaps some local TV programs.
In Washington, the governors will visit the Mall and go to the Smithsonian's Museum of American History to view the restoration work on the Star-Spangled Banner that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814 during the British attack on Baltimore.
The governors will also visit workers at the Pentagon in Northern Virginia - but won't spend time observing the damage caused when a hijacked jetliner crashed there Sept. 11.
Michael McKeon, a spokesman for Pataki, said the visit is an example of how the nation's governors stick together. "We appreciate these governors standing with us right now when there are people asking questions," McKeon said.