8:33 am Aug. 6, 20101
Breaking an awkward silence on the matter of the “Ground Zero Mosque” over the past weeks, at least a small number of New York's House and Senate delegation have pivoted off Michael Bloomberg’s instantly historic pro-mosque speech on Aug. 3 to voice their own support of the project.
Of 12 House members whose districts are mostly or entirely in New York City, and the state's two Senators, three have praised Bloomberg's speech and another has issued a statement supporting a Landmarks Preservation Commission decision to deny landmark status to a building the mosque is supposed to replace without mentioning the mayor's speech. One has issued a noncommittal statement. And nine have balked, entirely: one no-comment and eight non-responses to requests for comment.
Soon after New York’s landmarks commission unanimously denied protected status to the 47 Park Place building, the mayor rushed down to Governors Island to give his reaction. The decision shut down the main avenue of recourse for opponents of the proposed construction of Park 51, a new building spanning 45-47 Park Place and the future home of the Cordoba House.
The Cordoba House, a community center between thirteen and fifteen stories high and two blocks away from the World Trade Center site, will be a Muslim-led community center complete with inter-community gathering rooms, a 500-seat auditorium, swimming pool, art exhibition spaces, bookstores, restaurants, and a mosque. The latter proposition raised a national ruckus over whether having a mosque so close to Ground Zero desecrates the memory of victims of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 (despite revelations that a congregation has met, with no opposition, for weekly prayers in the current structure since 2009).
While local and national Republicans have enthusiastically taken up the issue on the anti-mosque side, Democrats—presumably with an eye on public-opinion polls— remained conspicuously silent on the issue. That left Bloomberg, a registered independent who was first elected as a Republican, as the most vocal elected defender of Cordoba House’s legal right to exist. (“Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.”)
Immediately after the speech, there was nothing from the city’s Democratic House and Senate delegation, allowing anti-mosque groups to carry to dialogue for at least a day, resulting in a case being filed against the LPC on grounds of “an abuse of discretion.”
Then, yesterday, New York’s Democrats began to break their silence on the Cordoba House.
A little before 11 a.m., senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer released statements, one cautious, the other near-meaningless.
Gillibrand, via spokeswoman Bethany Lesser, said, “"The community board, which includes many people who lived through the 9/11 attacks, overwhelmingly voted to approve this proposal and the senator supports the board's decision."
Schumer spokesman Mike Morey told the press the senator "is not opposed to the plan to build it." No elaboration was offered.
Within an hour, Ilan Kayatski, communications director for Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler, in whose district the Cordoba House would be built, issued what remains the most emphatic of Bloomberg-like (or any) sentiment about the mosque from a New York member of Congress: "As an elected official who believes strongly in the separation of church and state, I contend that the government has no business deciding whether there should or should not be a Muslim house of worship near Ground Zero. And, as a representative of New Yorkers of all faiths and cultures, I find the singling out of Muslim-Americans—because of their faith —for animus and hate to be shameful and divisive. We should instead work toward building tolerance and understanding. For centuries, New Yorkers have exhibited a great capacity to incorporate and benefit from diversity. The Cordoba House, which is the product of moderate Muslims, has the support of the local community board and a wide swath of Lower Manhattan community leaders."
Nadler’s statement seemed to signal to some other members of the delegation that it was OK to say something.
Shortly after he made his statement, still before noon, Talking Points Memo received a statement from Carolyn Maloney’s office. Maloney said, by proxy: “While I understand some of the strong emotions this proposal has created, I believe that preventing the project from being built would run counter to our proud constitutional rights of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to assemble. I stand with many in our community, including Mayor Bloomberg and the local community board, in supporting the rights of the project's planners to build in lower Manhattan, which I believe will signal to the world that the terrorists will never be able to destroy the American traditions of openness and tolerance.”
Jose Serrano issued a statement to Capital that said, “I agree fully with Mayor Bloomberg’s belief that as New Yorkers and Americans we have a duty to protect religious tolerance and honor our diversity. I have said since 9/11 that the more we turn away from our traditional values of tolerance and human rights, the more the terrorists have achieved what they sought. We teach the world a lesson about our true values when we show that we are bigger in spirit than a narrow anti-Muslim stance that would prevent the building of this place of worship.”
A little after 2 p.m., press officials for Yvette Clarke told Capital they had no comment, but that they might have a comment soon.
A little after 5 p.m., Lauren Amendolara, communications director for Michael McMahon, said, “McMahon will not be commenting.” (McMahon has had problems in his district with popular rejection of a separate controversial mosque construction project as recently as last month.)
As of late yesterday, the sometimes-very-outspoken Anthony Weiner had made no statement, despite particular attention from some members of the media. Neither, despite requests, had Nydia Velazquez, Gregory Meeks, Joseph Crowley, Edolphus Towns, Eliot Engel or Charles Rangel.