Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Political Leaders’ Rift Grows on Muslim Center - NYTimes.com
Even as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg firmly rejected calls for the relocation of a planned Muslim community center and mosque near ground zero, signs of growing division emerged on Tuesday within the political establishment in Manhattan, as the powerful speaker of the State Assembly expressed forceful opposition to the plan.
Breaking his silence on the issue, the speaker, Sheldon Silver, a Democrat whose district includes ground zero, said the organizers’ honorable goal of healing post-Sept. 11 wounds and building bridges among faiths had instead provoked bitter fighting and raw emotions that could not be ignored.
“I think the sponsors,” Mr. Silver said at City Hall, “should take into very serious consideration the kind of turmoil that’s been created and look to compromise.”
Such a compromise, he added, would mean finding “a suitable place that doesn’t create the kind of controversy” engendered by the Park51 plan.
The opposition from Mr. Silver, a religious Jew who commands considerable influence in the city’s Democratic political world, is largely symbolic, because the city has already given its approval. But it fueled creeping doubts about the viability of the center, which faces a raft of obstacles, like paltry fund-raising, on top of the public outcry.
Mr. Silver’s remarks came on the same day that Mr. Bloomberg, the center’s most visible supporter, delivered a carefully prepared answer to the emerging voices calling for a compromise.
Speaking at a traditional dinner at Gracie Mansion as part of Ramadan, the mayor sought to tamp down the opposition and regain control over a national debate that has escalated by the day, starting as a local zoning dispute and becoming a referendum on the limits of religious tolerance in an age of terrorism.
Mr. Bloomberg, flanked by the center’s developer and the wife of its imam, said he understood the impulse to find a different location, in the hope of ending the controversy.
“But it won’t,” the mayor said. “The question will then become, ‘How big should the ‘no-mosque zone’ around the World Trade Center be?’ ”
He added: “There is already a mosque four blocks away. Should it, too, be moved? This is a test of our commitment to American values. We must have the courage of our convictions. We must do what is right, not what is easy.”
It was Mr. Bloomberg’s second major speech in three weeks supporting the plan, and its soaring tone and forceful arguments suggested that he had firmly embraced his role as a national defender of the plan for the center, even as high-profile voices have called for a re-examination of the wisdom of the current site.