After Fiery Debate, Vote Approves Mosque Plans

Community Board Passes Vote in late meeting

After hours of contentious public comment, a New York City community board voted late Tuesday to support a plan to build a mosque and cultural center near ground zero.

"It's a seed of peace,'' board member Rob Townley said. `"We believe that this is significant step in the Muslim community to counteract the hate and fanaticism in the minority of the community.''

The vote was 29-to-1 in favor of the plan, with 10 abstentions. The move by the Manhattan Community Board 1, while not necessary for the building's owners to move forward with the project, is seen as key to obtaining residents' support.

Some board members wanted to postpone a vote until the next meeting to gather more information about the project and the organizations sponsoring it. But the motion failed.

The meeting was unruly, with project opponents jeering at speakers and yelling comments such as ``You're building over a

Christian cemetery!'' while holding signs that read, `"Show respect for 3000,'' among other things.

Many said they were not opposed to a mosque -- just not one that's two blocks from ground zero.

As Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf spoke, praising the prospect of a Muslim religious center at the site, he was shouted down and loudly booed by the audience.

Abdul Rauf said "The Cordoba center and it's programs will be modeled after the 92nd Street Y," and claimed that the Jewish Community Center and prominent Manhattan Rabbi Arthur Schneier backed the development.

When Abdul Rauf's wife, Daisy Khan who also runs the American Society of Muslim Advancement, said, "I cried when I watched the towers fall," she was also met with loud boos and heckling.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is also  among those supporting the project saying "the possibility to have an interfaith center where people of different backgrounds come together..modeled after the 92nd Street a discussion worth having."

Still, there were many who felt conflicted about the move.

George Aufiero of Huntington told us "it's not that it had anything to do with the Muslims. It was terrorists. But it's a little hard to digest sometimes." 

And Caroline Osbourne of Staten Island said "it's not that I don't like it. It's just that it reminds me of what happened."

Michael Burke who is against the plan said, "for the record, I have a Hispanic wife and a black son, I am not a bigot!"

Lee Hanson from Easton, CT also spoke at the hearing -- his son, Peter, daughter-in-law Sue Kim, and grand daughter Christine Lee were aboard United 175, which crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

Lee was met with loud applause when he said "I am not against the mosque because I am a bigot. I am against it because it is in poor taste."

There's also a page on Facebook listing tens of thousands of opponents, including many who do not live in New York.

But Jean Grillo, a Tribeca resident, whose niece was rescued from the South Tower, said "I say bring it on.  What a wonderful opportunity to teach tolerance."

But there could be a snag in plans for demolition. Back in the 1980's, there was a proposal to designate the building a landmark. No formal decision was ever made.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission has been reviewing former proposed sites, and scheduling new hearings. The Commission plans to hold another public hearing about 45 Park Place "in early summer".

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Copyright AP - Associated Press
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