Former NYSE Chairman Richard Grasso on Closing the Trading Floor After 9/11

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This is a rush transcript from "Your World With Neil Cavuto," September 11, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: I want to take you back to that time with the man who led our financial charge back, exclusively here on FOX, Richard Grasso, the former head of the New York Stock Exchange.

Very good to have you, Dick. Thanks for coming.

RICHARD GRASSO, FORMER CEO, NEW YORK STOCK EXCHANGE: Neil, it is a pleasure to be with you.

CAVUTO: You and were talking during the break. It is like yesterday. It seems that way to me and I'm sure to you.

But we have been focusing on just the sheer horror and terror. But you were dealing with a financial nightmare. You had an exchange whose people not only whose people decimated, but equipment was all but lost.

Go back and tell me what was going on.

GRASSO: Well, I think the great concern at that time and for all of those days that we were closed was not so much the equipment and the infrastructure damage, but we were all praying that, in this pile, there would at least be one or two people pulled out.

And of course we were later proven wrong. So, it was the greatest rescue mission in the history of our country. Twenty-five to 35,000 people came out of those towers and are alive today, Neil, because of the brave efforts of the greatest fire department in the world, the greatest police department and the world, and the greatest port authority police department.

You know, 343 members of our FDNY gave their lives so those 35,000 people could be walking around today.

CAVUTO: And think about it. What is lost on a lot of people, Dick, is that, that day, 600 children became fatherless or motherless. It is staggering.

Now, you are at the exchange. This is going on. You are debating about what to do. That day, you decide can't open, would not be wise to open anyway. But then you stay close for a few more days. And you're under heavy pressure to reopen. You don't.

Why not? Tell me the kind of pressure you were under. Why did you put it off? What happened?

GRASSO: Well, there were a lot of people saying, go ahead and start the markets.

But you had to be here to understand the carnage. You had to be here to understand that there was a 2,000-degree fire burning in what was once the north tower's location. And firefighters and police officers were in this expanse of 16 acres looking for live survivors.


CAVUTO: So, you thought it would just be, say nothing of the business problems you were facing, it would just be in poor taste?

GRASSO: Oh, not just in poor taste. It would be in conflict with the American spirit.

Economics are important. People are more important. And the thought that we could save one more life by staying closed today was a driver. It was also important, Neil, to recognize that, each day, at least at that time, a quarter-of-a-million people came to work in this area.

To ask a quarter-of-a-million people to come down here at a time when this looked like a war zone, we had to first straighten out the human issues.

CAVUTO: And you did. And you did, and the city, thanks to all the great leaders at the time, Rudy Giuliani and Pataki, and the senators. But when you did reopen on Monday, almost three billion shares changed hands. We had a — what was a huge hit, almost 700 points, which I think amounted to about 7 percent. People were saying maybe he should have stayed closed.

GRASSO: But, you know, that is the greatness of America's economic system. You have to let the free markets work, OK, but you don't want the free market to become a free-for-all market, which would have happened had we opened on the 12th or 13th or 14th.

CAVUTO: But you knew that once we were back and trading, up and down, we were back, right?

GRASSO: Absolutely. And, you know, it was such a wonderful thing to see.

I mentioned a moment 343 firefighters, 23 New York City police officers, 37 Port Authority police officers gave their lives. And we had a responsibility as a financial community, not the New York Stock Exchange, not Merrill Lynch, but the entire financial community, getting together, making it come back, and sending a message that, while you have killed thousands of people, you have destroyed billions in property, the American way of life and our American economic system will thrive once again. And we have.

CAVUTO: One kind of tacky financial issue. We were in the middle a year ago of a financial meltdown. Do you think we're more focused on that one-year anniversary coming up than this eight-year anniversary we're looking at?

GRASSO: Well, you know, for me and for many of the firefighters and police officers that I joined this morning for a memorial service, this will never leave us.

The country must move on, but we must never forget the sacrifices made and why rebuilding economically is important to, if you will, cherishing the memories of those whom we lost that day.

CAVUTO: Very well put. Richard Grasso, thank you for putting up with the rain.

Richard got a little dig in with me. He said, "At least my hair is not getting wet."

And that was his way of just zinging it back.

All right, good to see you.

GRASSO: Neil, how do I look?


CAVUTO: Well, thank you very much.

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