NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York Governor David Paterson plans to discuss relocating a proposed Muslim cultural center and mosque to a less emotionally charged location farther from New York City’s “Ground Zero” site of the September 11 attacks.
“We are working with the developers,” Paterson’s spokeswoman Maggie McKeon said. “There have not been any formal discussions between the governor, the imam or the developer. However, we expect to have a meeting scheduled in the near future.”
U.S. Representative Peter King of New York said he discussed the issue with Paterson on Tuesday and the governor told him he would meet this week with Muslim officials to discuss providing state funds to help the center find another location.
A spokesman for the project, Oz Sultan, said: “To the best of our knowledge, a meeting has not been scheduled.
“We appreciate the governor’s interest as we continue to have conversations with many officials,” Sultan said.
The project, planned for two blocks from the site of the September 11, 2001, attacks by al Qaeda that destroyed the World Trade Center and killed close to 3,000 people, has stirred a national debate over whether the Muslim center should be constructed there.
“If everyone steps back and looks at this, it really is in everyone’s best interest in doing it … especially the Muslim community, to show that they are serious about building bridges and that they are not just trying to make a statement by having a mosque built over Ground Zero,” King said.
King told Reuters he would like to see the cultural center and mosque built but away from the site of the attacks. The current proposed location would reopen too many wounds, he said.
“It’s just opening an old wound and pouring salt into it,” he added.
Plans for the project, called the Cordoba House, include a 13-story building to house a prayer space, auditorium, swimming pool and meeting rooms.
President Barack Obama entered the fray on Friday, saying he supported the right of Muslims to build there. Amid political backlash a day later, the president said he was commenting on religious freedom, not the exact location of the mosque.
With Republicans trying to wrest control of Congress from Obama’s Democrats, and facing a tough re-election battle of his own, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid broke with the president over the issue on Monday, saying the mosque should be built elsewhere.