Landmarks Hearing for "Ground Zero Mosque" Building Turns Raucous

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    NEWSLETTERS

    New Yorkers speak out. Again. Over the proposal to build a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero.

    Emotions ran high Tuesday afternoon at Hunter College, where people were boiling mad at the possibility of a mosque and Islamic cultural center being built near Ground Zero.

    The city's Landmark Preservation Commission is considering landmark designation for the building on Park Place where the mosque is to be built, so held a open hearing Tuesday at Hunter to hear from the public.

    "How can we allow something to eradicate that memory - the pain and suffering," said attendee Barbara Sommer of Brooklyn.

    But New Yorkers on both sides of the issue demanded their voices be heard.

    "The villains who did this to our country do not represent Islam in any way whatsoever," said New Yorker Zead Ramadan, who is Muslim.

    Muslim Americans, still feeling the heat for the vicious attacks of September 11, 2001, point out that they were carried out by a small cadre of zealots.

    But families of 9/11 victims were downright offended.

    "It should be a landmark building. It should not be a mosque," said Linda Rivera of Manhattan.

    Sally Reganhard was disgusted at the proposal and those in support of the project including state and city leaders.

    "We're are still wounded and our hearts are bleeding," she pleaded.

    Reganhard's son, Christian, was a fire fighter killed in the 9/11 attacks.

    "They should have tolerance for the 9/11 families," said Reganhard.

    Rick Lazio — the Republican candidate for governor — was among the witnesses testifying in support of landmark status for the building.

    After noting the lower Manhattan building's history and architectural significance, Lazio said it also warranted landmark designation because on Sept. 11, 2001, it was struck by airplane debris from the terror attacks against the nearby World Trade Center. That connection to the attacks, he said, made it "a place of deep historical significance and a reminder of just what happened on New York's darkest day.''

    Lazio has called on state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, his Democratic opponent in the governor's race, to investigate the funding of the project. On Tuesday, he repeated that request and said the pace of the landmark designation process should be slowed to allow time to thoroughly investigate the matter.

    Nearly 100 people attended the hearing at a college campus on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Fifty-six people testified at the hearing, which turned contentious at times, with some speakers drowned out by shouts from the audience.

    The five-story building on Park Place, a few blocks north of Wall Street, was completed between 1857 and 1858 and is an Italian Renaissance-inspired palazzo. It formerly housed a department store, which closed after the building was damaged on Sept. 11. Muslim prayer service is held at the building at least one day a week.

    Landmark status could require the owners to obtain the approval of the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission before making significant changes. It's unlikely that, if granted such status, the building could be demolished.

    The city's 11-member Landmarks Preservation Commission is expected to vote later this summer on whether the building meets the standards of architectural, cultural and historic characteristics to qualify it for landmark status.