By Nicole Bode
DNAinfo Senior Editor
MANHATTAN – Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the mosque near Ground Zero during a Thursday visit to "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart", saying the controversy over its construction is just political grandstanding.
“This mosque has been operating for over a year, there’s nothing new here. The difference is, this is election season,” Bloomberg told Stewart, “This is, plain and simple, people trying to stir up things to get publicity and trying to polarize people so they can get some votes. I don’t think most of these people who are yelling and screaming really care one way or another.”
“Whether you like a mosque or don’t like a mosque, you don’t have to go,” Bloomberg added. “There’s already another mosque down there within four blocks from the World Trade Center, there’s porno places, there’s fast food restaurants, it’s a vibrant community. It’s New York.”
Bloomberg got a warm welcome from Stewart’s audience, who cheered after he shared an anecdote about a “big, hulking” man who approached his table recently as Bloomberg dined with girlfriend Diana Taylor.
The man turned out to be a soldier just back from two tours fighting overseas, and he thanked the mayor for defending the mosque’s right to exist, Bloomberg said.
“This is what we were all fighting for. You go and keep at it,” the man told Bloomberg.
Bloomberg acknowledged the sensitivity of families of those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Center, but said the 9/11 victims' families he’s spoken to are “100 percent in favor” of the mosque developers’ right to build their Islamic center.
Stewart asked whether Bloomberg was freer to speak out because he can’t be reelected, a nod to Bloomberg’s third term as mayor.
“I think I would speak out even more if I were running for reelection. People want candidates to say what they believe, they want people to be genuine,” Bloomberg said.