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Lazio Campaign Ad References Downtown Mosque Controversy

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The controversial proposal for an Islamic cultural center near the World Trade Center site continued to be political fodder Thursday, as Republican gubernatorial hopeful Rick Lazio incorporated it into a campaign ad and Governor David Paterson offered to broker a deal to move the mosque. NY1's Grace Rauh filed the following report.

The bitter fight over Park51, an Islamic community center and mosque near the World Trade Center site, showed no signs of letting up Thursday. Governor David Paterson hoped to broker a deal, to lessen the emotional backlash against the project.

"If we could find a way to be helpful and it brought this situation to a timely end and brought people back together who right now are somewhat divided, I think it would be very worthwhile," said Paterson.

The governor said it would be a noble gesture for those behind the project to move it, and insisted he spoke with one of the mosque planners on Wednesday night.

"We plan on talking again in the next couple of days," said the governor.

The mosque founders dispute that, and wrote on their blog that there has been no communication with the governor's office. They said they are committed to staying in their current location, two blocks from the World Trade Center site.

The project has become a political football, as Republican candidate for governor Rick Lazio released a campaign ad slamming his Democratic opponent, State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, over his stance on the mosque.

"They are opening up wounds, particularly for the families of the victims of 9/11," said Lazio.

Cuomo had said the U.S. Constitution guarantees Americans freedom of religion and that the government can not prevent citizens from building a house of worship on private property.

Lazio's campaign ad gained notoriety for featuring images from September 11th and merging Cuomo's face with the destroyed Twin Towers.

The ad says, "Incredibly, Andrew Cuomo defends [the mosque], even though this imam said America was an accessory to 9/11."

NY1 reached out to Cuomo for a response, but he did not take any questions.

The New York City Sergeants Benevolent Association and Uniformed Fire Officers Association expressed outrage that Lazio uses images from the September 11th attacks.

SBA officials released a statement which read in part, "For someone whose argument against the mosque is that it is insensitive to those who lost loved ones on that day, it is unconscionable that he would display similar insensitivity by evoking these painful memories for his own political purposes."

UFOA President Alexander Hagan wrote a letter to Lazio that read in part, "It was with a mix of surprise and disappointment to see your new video that seeks to capture the attention of the viewer with graphic images of Ground Zero that day."

As of late Thursday, NY1 was still awaiting Lazio's response to the police sergeants and firefighters.

On Thursday, some local politicians said they were ready to move on.

"Is this going to be the dominant issue for weeks and weeks when millions of people are unemployed and there are so many other challenges?" said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.

Others, though, did not let up.

"All this is doing is creating more division, more anger, more hatred," said former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on "The Today Show."

Meanwhile, a prominent city Muslim leader offered support for the plan for the mosque.

Imam Shamsi Ali of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York said not building the mosque would be as divisive as building it, and accuses some who oppose the project of just playing politics.

Ali said Muslims were also hurt by the attacks of September 11th.

"What terrorists want is to separate us Muslims from mainstream Americans. They don't want us to be part of this nation, they don't want us to be an integral part of American society," said Ali. "But we say to them, 'We don't listen to you. We are part of this nation, and any bad things afflicted on this nation is afflicted on us.'"

The imam said the majority of Muslims oppose terrorism and are working hard to educate people that Islam and terrorism are not the same.

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