Staten Island pols sound off against Ground Zero mosque
From the Staten Island Advance:
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Staten Island elected officials yesterday condemned the Cordoba House mosque project planned for Manhattan's Ground Zero neighborhood, and slammed President Barack Obama's comments about the project.
"This has very little to do with religious expression, contrary to what the president alleged," said state Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island). "This is about making a political statement: Sticking it in the eye of the people who died on 9/11. It's the wrong place for the mosque to be."
During a Ramadan event at the White House on Friday, a ceremony similar to those hosted by former President George W. Bush, Obama said Muslims "have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country." That includes "the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan," he said.
With critics bashing him for supporting the project, Obama on Saturday sought to clarify his remarks, saying that he wasn't commenting on the "wisdom" of building the mosque near Ground Zero.
The site is two blocks from the former World Trade Center, where nearly 3,000 people, including more than 270 Islanders, were killed on 9/11.
Lanza said that Obama should be focused on the economy.
"We don't need him to preach to us about building a mosque a block away from a horrific attack on America by Islamic terrorists," Lanza said.
Borough President James P. Molinaro said that organizers would move the mosque if they truly wanted to build bridges to non-Muslims.
"It's not an act of friendship and outreach," said Molinaro, who has written a letter opposing the site to project organizers. "It's being put there as a symbol of what they did on 9/11."
About 73 percent of Islanders oppose the Manhattan mosque, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll.
Rep. Michael McMahon (D-Staten Island/ Brooklyn) said that building the mosque near Ground Zero "will not promote necessary interfaith dialogue, but will continue to fracture the faiths and citizens" of New York and America."
Said McMahon, "I believe a new location is the right compromise so that Muslim Americans can worship without eliciting feelings that push us away from our country's basic tenet of religious acceptance while the families of 9/11 victims obtain the peace of mind they deserve."
"This is not about what's legal," said City Councilman James Oddo (R-Mid-Island/Brooklyn). "This is about respecting the memory of those who perished on 9/11."
Said Oddo, "I am not objective on this issue. I lost any objectivity in the fall of 2001, when literally every day, I attended funerals and masses and memorials for the victims."
State Sen. Diane Savino (D-North Shore/Brooklyn) said that another location should be chosen for the mosque, but stopped short of saying that government should stop the project if it can.
"You have to tread very lightly on that," she said. "What makes us uniquely American is our commitment to religious freedom. You don't want to set the precedent on where houses of worship can be built. It's a slippery slope."
But if improved relations are the goal, Ms. Savino added, the mosque should be moved.
"Tolerance runs both ways," she said.
Assemblyman Matthew Titone (D-North Shore) said while he agrees that Muslims have the same religious freedoms as other worshippers, he said that choosing the Lower Manhattan site was "very insensitive."
"I don't want to get government that involved in religious issues," he said, "but I think they could have come up with a location that's not there."
The Island saw a similar controversy when a Muslim group earlier this year proposed to build a mosque in a former Midland Beach convent. Church officials eventually declined to sell the property.
Oddo said Obama made the Ground Zero mosque a national issue in this year's mid-term congressional elections.
"This is now dead-set in the middle of the political arena," Oddo said. "I don't think it's a good thing for his own party."
McMahon, who is up for re-election this year, did not address the potential political ramifications of the mosque issue in his statement.
Deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton yesterday said it was "not politics" that prompted Obama to address the controversy, but Obama's feeling that he had the obligation as president to "make sure people are treated equally" under the Constitution.
Burton said Obama "felt it was his obligation as president to address this."
The Senate's top Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid, yesterday came out against the project. Mayor Michael Bloomberg supports the mosque at its present location.