Speaking at a pro-Israel 2020 policy conference Monday, former New York City mayor and current Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg declared one of his greatest moments was insisting it was just fine to build a mosque near Ground Zero after Sept. 11.
His comments marked the second time in less than a month Mr. Bloomberg has sought to cloak his presidential bid in the memory of the 9/11 attacks, which occurred before he was elected.
“I was never prouder than when I stood in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty and argued that Muslim New Yorkers had every right to build a mosque anywhere in our city, including near the World Trade Center,” Mr. Bloomberg told the applauding crowd during his address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Mr. Bloomberg was referring to a plan, floated in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda jihadists that killed more than 3,000 people and left a smoking crater in downtown Manhattan, to build a mosque and a $100 million Muslim community center near where the legendary skyscrapers once stood.
Supporters said the 13-story Muslim center would be a way of bridging divisions and healing.
But the idea of a mosque near Ground Zero polarized the city where many felt that, while conceding it was legal, it was impolitic if not outrageous to suggest such a massive religious project so near the spot where the U.S. had endured a bloody attack from Muslim terrorism.
The idea, backed by the American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative, was eventually scuttled. It had the support of then-President Obama and many other New York political figures in addition to Mr. Bloomberg, but it also sparked protests in downtown Manhattan.
Mr. Bloomberg’s Monday remarks came at an AIPAC gathering long regarded in a bipartisan manner as the most pro-Israel event on the political calendar. He received a standing ovation, and was the only Democratic candidate to appear in person at the event.
His speech came at the same time Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, now the leading Democratic contender for the 2020 presidential nomination and fending off accusations of anti-semitic positions in the past, again skipped AIPAC, which he labelled a place for “leaders who express bigotry.”
Mr. Bloomberg also used his speech to excoriate Mr. Sanders for his longstanding antipathy toward AIPAC, and said the socialist’s view the group was somehow racist is “dead wrong.”
The speech also marked the second time Mr. Bloomberg’s summoning of 9/11 raised eyebrows. In a February campaign ad, Mr. Bloomberg boasted he “led” New York during the difficult time of the attacks on the World Trade Center.
But Mr. Bloomberg was not mayor on 9/11, a tragedy long associated with then-NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Mr. Bloomberg did not take power in City Hall until the following year.