By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — New York politicians gathered Thursday afternoon to denounce Tea Party leader Mark Williams and support a mosque and community center planned near ground zero.
The politicians were responding to Williams’ blog rant against the mosque Wednesday, in which he said Muslims worshipped a “monkey god.”
“His spewing of racial hatred reminds me…of Adolph Hitler,” Borough President Scott Stringer said at Thursday’s press conference. “We reject him. We reject his bigotry.”
Stringer and other politicians stood together outside the former Burlington Coat Factory building on Park Place, where the Cordoba Initiative hopes to build a $100 million, 13-story community center with Islamic, interfaith and secular programming, similar to the 92nd Street Y.
While the Cordoba House’s location just two blocks north of the World Trade Center has sparked protests from some 9/11 family members and many others, the local politicians said Thursday that the location was fitting.
“This is precisely where this kind of center for peace and place of worship should rise up,” City Comptroller John Liu said.
In addition to Liu and Stringer, State Sen. Daniel Squadron, City Councilwoman Margaret Chin and Councilman Robert Jackson, the Council’s sole Muslim, all spoke in favor of the plans.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a leader of the Cordoba Initiative, said he has been surprised by the vitriolic debate, since he has led his congregation ten blocks north of the World Trade Center for the past 27 years. His mosque lost several members on 9/11 and distributed bottled water to firefighters afterward.
Rauf said he plans to meet with the 9/11 family members who do not support the Cordoba House.
“I understand their concerns and I understand their fear,” Rauf said. “But fear is addressed by ministering to the pain and that is what we intend to do.”
Rauf said emphatically that the center was “not a mosque. Though it will contain space for up to 2,000 Muslims to pray, it will also host many athletic and cultural events, possibly including the Tribeca Film Festival, he said. The Cordoba House may also include a memorial to those killed on 9/11.
“We want to rebuild this community,” Rauf said. “This is about the vast majority of moderate Muslims who want to be part of the solution.”
Rauf said he was not worried that the potential landmarking of the Burlington Coat Factory building at 45 Park Place would get in the way of his plans. Stringer said the city would work with the Cordoba Initiative to ensure the new building could rise.
The Cordoba Initiative will present their plans to Community Board 1 Tuesday night.
The board’s Financial District Committee unanimously supported the Cordoba House earlier this month. If the full board decides to weigh in, the resolution would only refer to the community aspects of the center, not the religious pieces, said Julie Menin, chairwoman of the board.
Menin attended Thursday’s press conference but did not speak, saying afterward that she was waiting for the board’s vote before she expressed her view.