Paterson, WTC Mosque Imam to Meet

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    Gov. David Paterson, who last week suggested a proposed Islamic center and mosque near ground zero might want to relocate elsewhere, will meet soon with the project's developers, a spokesman said Tuesday.

    Paterson's office declined to say what the meeting would be about, but Rep. Peter King told The Associated Press that the governor wants to discuss possible alternate locations for the Park51 Islamic cultural center and mosque. King said he spoke with the governor Tuesday.

    Representatives of the project said no meeting had been scheduled yet.

    Paterson last week offered his help and the possibility that state land could be provided as an alternate site for the center. The project has ignited nationwide debate over freedom of religion and anger over the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

    "I think it's rather clear that building a center there meets all the requirements, but it does seem to ignite an immense amount of anxiety among the citizens of New York and people everywhere and I think not without cause,'' Paterson said in a news conference in Manhattan.

     

    "I am very sensitive to the desire of those who are adamant against it to see something else worked out,'' Paterson said. The developers declined to comment. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who last week made an impassioned defense of the project, saying it would be a "sad day" if the project gets shut down.

    The planned $100 million center would be built two blocks from the World Trade Center site, where nearly 2,800 people died when Islamic extremists flew jets into the twin towers. The project is headed by Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, a Muslim cleric who has worked to improve relations between Islam and the West.

    Morgan Hook, a Paterson spokesman, said talks were under way between the governor's office and representatives of Park51 to set up a meeting between Paterson and the project's leaders.

    "We are working with the developers on a staff level but there have not been any formal discussions between the governor and imam or developer," Hook said. "We expect to have a meeting scheduled in the near future."

    Mosque spokesman Oz Sultan released a statement Tuesday saying he did not believe a meeting had been scheduled yet.

    "We appreciate the governor's interest as we continue to have conversations with many officials," Sultan said.

    King, the ranking minority leader of the Homeland Security Committee, said that he had spoken to Paterson on Tuesday and that the governor expected the meeting to take place within days.

    "He said he is meeting in the next day or so with the developers and the leaders of the mosque to discuss his proposal to move it to state land. My understanding was the imam is going to be there," King told the AP.

    Rauf was scheduled to leave this week on a two-week trip to the Middle East as part of a religious outreach effort by the State Department.

    A Marist College poll released last week found that 53 percent of New York City voters polled oppose constructing the mosque there. Just 34 percent favored the plan in the poll, which also showed a slide in Bloomberg's traditional high approval ratings. The Marist poll surveyed 809 New York City residents July 28 through Aug. 5 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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