By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Opponents of the Park51 mosque and community center took to the steps of City Hall Thursday morning to reignite interest in their cause and unveil a 120,000-signature petition.
"We are not going away," shouted former firefighter Tim Brown, a 9/11 first responder who sued the city over Park51. "We are continuing to grow. This is not about the election. We are here after the election and we will start this again."
Guy Rodgers, executive director of ACT! for America, organized both the rally and the drive for petition signatures against the Islamic center, located two blocks away from Ground Zero.
Although Rodgers acknowledged that Park51’s builders had the right to put the center wherever they please, he wanted Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others to use "their power of persuasion" to get the mosque moved farther away.
Rodgers said about 9,000 of the signatures came from New Yorkers, including former Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who signed one of the versions at a press conference last month.
After Rodgers and other speakers addressed the crowd of several dozen people, Rodgers marched into City Hall with the sheaf of petition signatures and handed it to one of Bloomberg’s aides.
Bloomberg has been outspoken in support of the project. Asked about the petition on Thursday, his spokesman said, "The mayor has made his position clear."
Supporters of Park51 attended the rally as well, and disrupted the speeches by shouting, "No racists! Racists out!" until security guards escorted them away.
One of those forced to leave was Todd Eaton, 48, a Brooklyn resident who attended on behalf of StopIslamaphobia.org.
"The World Trade Center victims deserve to have their families living in a free country," Eaton said as he walked away from City Hall.
The lively rally turned somber as Rosaleen Tallon spoke about the death of her 26-year-old brother, firefighter Sean Tallon, on 9/11. Rosaleen Tallon recalled her brother as a lover of Irish music who rooted for the Jets and Rangers and ran into the burning towers because he wanted to save lives.
"Ground Zero is sacrosanct," said Tallon, who opposes Park51. "It should not be antagonized in any way. It should be respected and honored."