Bloomberg Aides Closely Advised Park51’s Leaders on Mosque Plans, E-mails Reveal
By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — A trove of newly released e-mails reveals a close relationship between Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s commissioners and the founders of Park51.
Ninety pages of e-mails dating back to 2009 show that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan relied heavily on City Hall for advice and assistance as they moved forward in their plans to build a mosque and community center two blocks north of the World Trade Center.
After the pair presented their vision to Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee in May, Nazli Parvizi, commissioner of the mayor’s Community Affairs Unit, ghostwrote a letter from Khan to CB1 Chairwoman Julie Menin, thanking Menin for supporting the project.
After several back-and-forth e-mails tweaking the letter, Parvizi advised Rauf to get it to Menin as soon as possible to "keep her on your good side."
Menin said she never received the letter.
Park51’s backers also exchanged many e-mails with Fatima Shama, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.
"We need some guidance on how to tackle the opposition," Khan wrote to Shama on May 10, as the first wave of press reports about the plans flooded in.
Earlier in the year, Shama also helped secure a temporary Buildings Department permit so Rauf could continue holding Friday services in the future mosque site at 45-51 Park Place, which does not have a certificate of occupancy.
Bloomberg, whose office released the e-mails on Thursday in response to a lawsuit, said Friday morning that his aides offer similar advice and support to any group that requests assistance.
"When the pope came to town, the Catholic New York Archdiocese asked for help [and] we did the same thing," Bloomberg said on John Gambling’s radio show Friday morning. "That’s the city’s job. We don’t pick favorites."
The e-mails also revealed that Rauf first pitched the idea of Park51 to Bloomberg at the mayor’s 2009 Iftar dinner, a celebratory Ramadan meal.
The Cordoba Initiative and American Society for Muslim Advancement, two nonprofit groups behind Park51, donated $450 to the mayor’s office for the 2009 Iftar event, according to the e-mails.
Stu Loeser, spokesman for the mayor, said the city always solicited donations of money and food for cultural dinners and events, so the contributions were not out of the ordinary.
Loeser also defended the help Parvizi offered to Park51.
"The Community Affairs Unit exists to help groups navigate city government, and from helping prepare for a papal visit to expediting approval of a Jewish Sukkah in a midtown Manhattan park, this kind of assistance is typical of its regular work," Loeser said in a statement.
Park51 released a statement saying its leaders were "extremely appreciative to Mayor Bloomberg and his administration for the help and support they have provided to this important project to build an Islamic Community Center which will serve all the residents of Lower Manhattan."
To promote the Park51 project, Rauf plans to launch a nationwide speaking tour in January, the New York Times reported Friday.
The tour will hit Detroit, Chicago, Washington and San Antonio, along with college campuses including Harvard and Yale.
"I’m an American, and I believe that Americans are problem solvers," Rauf told the Times. "So I believe further discussion can only be good."