- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 24, 2010

NEW YORK | A powerful state politician joined with New York Gov. David A. Paterson on Tuesday in suggesting that Muslim leaders should move a proposed mosque and Islamic community center farther from ground zero, saying the organizers should be more sensitive.

Organizers have the right to build the center at a building two blocks from ground zero, but should be open to compromise, said New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who represents the Lower Manhattan district.

“In the spirit of living with others, they should be cognizant of the feelings of others and try to find a location that doesn’t engender the deep feelings that currently exist about this site,” Mr. Silver said.

Critics say the building is too close to where Islamist terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center on 2001 and killed nearly 2,800 people. Supporters say religious freedom decides the issue.

“I think the sponsors should take into very serious consideration the kind of turmoil that’s been created and look to compromise,” Mr. Silver said.

Mr. Paterson, who has expressed dismay over the heated arguments, met Tuesday with New York Roman Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan to try to suggest an alternative.

After the meeting, Archbishop Dolan warned that New Yorkers were losing their sense of tolerance and unity over the issue.

“We’re just a little bit apprehensive that these noble values may be a bit at risk in this way the conversation and debate about the site of the mosque is taking place,” he said.

While the archbishop said he did not “have strong feelings on where the mosque should ultimately be,” he added that Mr. Paterson discussed with him how religion can be brought to bear on the debate in an effort to encourage reconciliation and community, rather than divisiveness.

The developer was in the audience Tuesday night when New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a strong backer of the project at the site, delivered another impassioned plea of support at his annual iftar dinner — the daily meal in which Muslims break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

The mayor said he understood the “impulse” driving critics to urge backers to seek a location farther from ground zero, but predicted the compromise now backed by Mr. Silver would not end the debate.

“The question then will become how big should the no-mosque zone around the World Trade Center should be,” he said. “There is already a mosque four blocks away. Should it, too, be moved?”

Mr. Paterson has yet to meet with anyone from the Cordoba Initiative, the project’s organizer. Its co-founder, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, is on a Middle East trip funded by the U.S. State Department. He alluded to the controversy at a dinner Sunday night for student leaders at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Manama, Bahrain.

“The fact we are getting this kind of attention is a sign of success,” he said. “It is my hope that people will understand more. … This is something we are doing for our generation.”

Mr. Rauf also thanked President Obama, who has said Muslims had the right to practice their religion and build a mosque and community center “in Lower Manhattan.” The president later said he wasn’t endorsing the specifics of the plan.

“I’m grateful to President Obama for his support for the project,” the imam said.

The White House on Tuesday said that Mr. Obama would have no further comment on the issue and that the administration will not get involved in talks about relocating the facility. Republicans have vowed to make his support for the project a campaign issue in this fall’s midterm elections.

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