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New York (AFP) — George Pataki, the former governor who led New York during the September 11, 2001 attacks, on Thursday threw his hat into the crowded ring of Republicans running for the White House.

Announcing his bid for the presidency in a brief video, the 69-year-old centrist made an emotional appeal for national unity and promised to make America great once again.

“What unites us is so much more important than what might seem superficially to divide us. If we are to flourish as a people we have to fall in love with America again,” he said.

The son of a postman, Pataki studied at Yale University and Columbia Law School. He played up his centrist credentials as a leader who could get things done across the United States’ fraught party lines.

“I was a Republican governor in a very deep blue state, the state of New York and I was governor for three terms and it’s because, at the end, people realized my vision was not a partisan vision it was a vision about people, about what we could accomplish together.”

His video closed with images of the new World Trade Center, the highest office building in the Western Hemisphere built after the 9/11 attacks and which Pataki was the first to name “Freedom Tower.”

It marks a first White House bid for Pataki, who was an ardent supporter of America’s last Republican president, George W. Bush and who has long flirted with the idea of contesting the presidency.

Married to Libby for 41 years, the couple have four children, including two sons who served in the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a daughter who is a best selling novelist.

“Washington has grown too big, too powerful, too expensive and too intrusive,” said Pataki. “It is time to stand up, protect our freedom and take back this government.”

More than a dozen prominent Republicans have already announced their bid to win the party’s nomination for the 2016 election.

Screenshot: Pataki for President 2016/YouTube

Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.