Congressional Debate Turns to ‘Ground Zero Mosque’

Congressional Debate Turns to ‘Ground Zero Mosque’

The battle for the 9th congressional district is shining the spotlight back on to Park51—commonly referred to by opponents as the “Ground Zero mosque.”

In a new television ad released by Republican candidate Bob Turner, images of the burning World Trade Center after the 9/11 terrorist attacks are shown as Turner blasts the Park51 project and his opponent, David Weprin, who previously said, “I support the right of the mosque to build….”

Park51, a Muslim community center with an adjacent independent mosque, was proposed to replace the abandoned Burlington Coat Factory on Park Place. The plan became a contentious issue last year, particularly during the midterm elections. Critics claimed building a Muslim center on Ground Zero—the building is a few blocks away from the trade towers but was extensively damaged during the terrorist attacks—was insensitive to 9/11 victims. Park51’s developers and supporters argued the new development would promote interfaith dialogue and provide key services to the community like childcare centers and gyms.

Turner is no stranger to opposing the center. During his unsuccessful 2010 campaign against Anthony Weiner, Turner held a “Move the Mosque” rally at Forest Park last September with other Republican leaders and 9/11 victims.

The issue was first brought up several weeks ago when Senator Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) endorsed Weprin.

“David Weprin supported construction of a mosque just steps from the World Trade Center site, while Senator Lieberman vocally opposed it,” Turner campaign spokesman William O’Reilly said at the time. “We are curious to know what each of their positions are today.”

After releasing the ad last week, Turner’s camp is expounding on the issue: “If David Weprin can’t recognize the placement of this mosque as an insult, then he needs to snap out of it,” O’Reilly said. “A majority of New Yorkers made it perfectly clear that building a mosque that close to Ground Zero so soon after 9/11 was disrespectful and hurtful….”

However, Weprin’s position on the “Ground Zero mosque” was more nuanced than depicted by Turner. In a televised debate last year in Weprin’s campaign for state Assembly, which Turner used as the sound bite for the ad, Weprin stated, “I support the right of the mosque to build on that site, but I think something can be worked out … where even though they legally and constitutionally have full right to build a religious institution on private land, there can be an accommodation worked out … where it can be built in a place that is less offensive to these 9/11 families.”

Weprin’s campaign has denounced Turner’s use of 9/11 in a political campaign. “As we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11, it’s shameful that Bob Turner is trying to use the tragedy for his own political gain. I knew people who lost their lives that day and Bob Turner dishonors their memory by politicizing the attacks on New York,” he said in a statement.

Others have also piled on Turner for cheap politics. Alexander Hagan, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, condemned Turner’s ad. “Robert Turner’s commercial is very insensitive. We object to anyone exploiting the pain of thousands of families who lost loved ones on 9/11 to score political points,” Hagan said.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn had similar sentiments. “I don’t care what your party is, I don’t care what your point is,” she told the New York Observer. “That was a horrible, tragic day, 3,000 people lost their lives; as we discussed here, people are still dying. Let’s have some things in our lives be sacred.”

The controversy over Park51 has died down since its media splash last summer; last week the New York Times reported the developers are slowly moving forward with a modified plan that realistically is more than five years away from completion.

by Eric Yun


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