By David Pitt
LOWER MANHATTAN — Any hope among Democrats that the Ground Zero mosque controversy is simmering down was dashed Wednesday by the latest polling data, which found the public is still caught up in the project — and still overwhelmingly opposed.
But a similarly lopsided majority of those polled said that they agree that the developers of the 13-story Muslim complex have a constitutional right to build it, even if the site is only two blocks from the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
The poll, conducted by Siena College, found that 63 percent of respondents were against the mosque, with 27 percent in favor, a state of affairs virtually unchanged from the last Siena poll a week ago, when the tally was 61 to 26 percent.
“This is clearly an issue that has received a great deal of media coverage and has attracted the public’s attention,” Steven Greenberg, the Siena pollster said in a statement.
The poll found that a third of the voters are following the controversy very closely and 75 percent are following it very closely or somewhat closely. A week ago the figures were 20 percent and 56 percent, Greenberg noted.
The poll comes a day after a flurry of reports that the developer had agreed to meet with Gov. David Paterson to discuss his proposal to find an alternative site. Organizers of the Cordoba mosque and community center project, renamed Park51 on their Twitter feed, denied Tuesday that a meeting had been scheduled. “We’re moving ahead with current plans,” they said.
The controversy, which began as a local issue in New York, exploded into a national donnybrook after Pres. Barack Obama first said he supported the project as an affirmation of America’s commitment to religious freedom, then seemed to backtrack the following day.
Republican leaders pounced, seeing an irresistible election issue in their campaign to wrest control of Congress from the Democrats.
Even Archbishop Timothy Dolan waded into the fray according to NBC New York, saying Wednesday, “My major prayer is that what has turned into somewhat of a divisive issue might develop into an occasion of very civil, rational, loving, respectful discussion."
A group representing 9/11 first responders suffering from ailments linked to pollutants at Ground Zero slammed the president on Wednesday for speaking out on the mosque while keeping silent on a $7.2 billion health care bill that addresses their plight, the Daily News reported.
But Obama said Wednesday that he had "no regrets" about wading into the debate, MSNBC reported.
The Siena poll found that “voters can clearly distinguish” between their personal view on whether the mosque should be built near Ground Zero and whether the developer has a constitutional right to build it,
“A majority of every demographic group – by party, region, age, gender and political philosophy – agrees that there is a constitutional right to proceed,” Greenberg said, adding that even a majority of opponents – 51 to 42 percent – support the builder’s constitutional rights.