Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is one of the few House Democrats to accept the open invitation to the "Ground Zero" mosque party, which many Republicans hope to keep raging all the way to election day in November. Speaking to a San Francisco radio station yesterday, Pelosi said, "Speaking of urban development in my district, I have an opinion on almost every subject, but in New York, I'm sure the New Yorkers would like to make their own urban development decisions themselves." But then she did something special and "flipped it" on right-wingers like Rick Lazio, who has demanded that Attorney General Andrew Cuomo investigate the funding for the Islamic community center planned for Lower Manhattan.
"There is no question that there is a concerted effort to make this a political issue by some," said Pelosi (who has just issued the requisite "clarification.") "And I join those who have called for looking into how is this opposition to the mosque being funded? How is this being ginned up?" One place to start might be blogger Pamela Geller and her group, Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), which has purchased advertisements on city buses against the "Ground Zero" mosque and the Islamic faith. But really, an "issue" this provocative probably funds itself; all you need is a steady diet of misinformation and barely-concealed xenophobia. In an excellent op-ed in today's Times, Ross Douthat frames the controversy as part of a longstanding American dialectic:
This is typical of how these debates usually play out. The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes. The first America welcomed the poor, the tired, the huddled masses; the second America demanded that they change their names and drop their native languages, and often threw up hurdles to stop them coming altogether. The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.
Mayor Bloomberg had a great response to a mosque question yesterday during a press conference to the Democratic candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania, Rep. Joe Sestak. The Wall Street Journal reports that after an audience member and mosque opponent, Robert B. Sklaroff, began asking Bloomberg questions about whether some organizers of the mosque project had made anti-American statements, the mayor replied: "Look, I would suggest you go from here directly to the library. Get a copy of the Bill of Rights and you'll realize that everybody has a right to say what they want to say."
As reported yesterday, it's believed that Governor Paterson will meet with the project's developer this week to discuss a proposal to build the Islamic center somewhere else, on state-owned property. During interviews with NY1 and the Observer, developer Sharif El-Gamal insisted while he was happy to discuss the issue with the Governor, he would not relocate. "I don't give up," El-Gamal told the Observer. "I don't quit. It's just not in my DNA." However, when asked if he'd reconsider if he was offered a "tidy sum" for the property, El-Gamal replied, "It's not about money. But everything does have a price. But it's not about money." (CBS 2 reads the tea leaves in the project's Twitter feed and predicts they'll be relocating.)
And a new Siena College poll [pdf] shows that opposition remains strong against building the Islamic center—which was not described as the "Ground Zero" mosque by pollsters making the calls—by a margin of 63-27 percent, which is essentially unchanged since their last survey earlier this month. However, a margin of 64-28 percent voters say that the developers have a Constitutional right to build it. And nearly one-quarter of voters say the position of the gubernatorial candidates on this issue will have a major effect on which candidate they support.