The controversy raging over a planned mosque near the World Trade Center site is showing no signs of letting up, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg made his strongest statements in support of the mosque on Friday. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
There’s no doubt that the site of a planned Islamic community center and prayer space is close to the World Trade Center site, as it is two short blocks from the site of the terror attacks. While some see the proximity as offensive, others like Mayor Michael Bloomberg see it as a virtue, symbolic of America's commitment to religious freedom.
“I happen to think this is a very appropriate place for somebody who wants to build a mosque, because it tells the world that America, and New York City, which is what I’m responsible for, really believes in what we preach,” said Bloomberg on Friday.
The mayor's comments were perhaps his most forceful on the controversy, which in this election year has quickly become a political football.
Opinions seem to split along political party lines. Republican candidate for governor Rick Lazio and Republican Congressman Peter King have demanded an investigation into the project's funding, while Democrats like Andrew Cuomo have been supportive of the project.
Bloomberg, a political independent who brought up the topic unsolicited at a forum with Dartmouth College students.
During his weekly radio show, the mayor also sparred with a caller who asked, "How do you consider it un-American to question the appropriateness of a mosque at Ground Zero?”
The mayor responded, "I don’t think it’s un-American. I just don’t think that the government should keep some people from praying the way they want to and let others pray. You know, the more religious you are, the more you want to keep government out of religion.”
Bloomberg's position has irked some families of September 11th victims, who said the project’s backers deserve a closer look.
"We’re opposed to the location. Not religious freedom, which is what they’re making it be," said James Riches, who lost his firefighter son in the World Trade Center attack. "We’re opposed to the location. The families are insulted. When I go down there on 9/11, I’ll have to look at the mosque right on the site where they murdered my son that day."
"The project has already won near-unanimous support from the local community board, but opponents are now hoping that one of the buildings to be torn down for the project is granted landmark status, which could block or at the very least complicate plans for the mosque.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission is set to vote on the issue later this summer.