Volume 22, Number 54 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 21 - 27, 2010
Squadron supports Cordoba move; CB need not approve
BY John Bayles
It was only a committee meeting and not a full board meeting. The group that presented their plans to build at the site of the old Burlington Coat Factory on Park Place did not have to show up. And the committee chair did not have to put them on the meeting’s agenda.
Days after Community Board (CB) 1’s Financial District Committee passed a unanimous resolution in favor of the Cordoba Institute moving to Lower Manhattan to build a community center with a mosque, local and national media outlets pounced on the story. Ro Sheffe, the committee chair, was disappointed, to say the least, with the coverage.
“There has been so much inaccuracy in so many of the media accounts of this proposal,” said Sheffe last Friday. “From what we were told at the meeting - what we were hearing was a secular community center with a mosque attached. Everything we heard obviously we liked. It was unanimous.”
Though the coverage has been exhaustive - from web-only news outlets to the New York Post, even an anti-Cordoba House Facebook group with 53,000 members already opposing the group - few elected officials have taken a stance on the issue, save for New York State Senator Daniel Squadron.
“Community religious and civic organizations have been a big part of the extraordinary resurgence of Lower Manhattan,” Squadron said Wednesday evening. “The Cordoba Initiative has been a part of that rebuilding, and a new community facility would contribute to Lower Manhattan’s role as a center for cultural diversity and tolerance.”
As of press time, this paper had reached out to a number of elected officials and only Squadron returned our calls.
“To be clear, religious intolerance, demagoguery and fear mongering have no place in the discussion about development on and around the World Trade Center site,” said Squadron. “I join Manhattan Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee in working with the Cordoba Initiative and all of our community organizations to ensure that Lower Manhattan continues to prosper and grow.”
Only hours after Sheffe’s committee unanimously approved a resolution in favor of the Cordoba Initiative’s plan, one web-based news outlet characterized the decision as “approved by Community Board 1.” Problem number one: the full Community Board did not approve the plan. A few days later, New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser ran a piece entitled “Mosque Madness at Ground Zero.” Problem number two: the Burlington Coat Factory is not at Ground Zero. Problem number three: what was presented at Sheffe’s committee meeting was much more than a mosque. When other news outlets began running the story, the Cordoba House was being described as an Islamic cultural center.
“Islamic cultural center is incorrect,” said Sheffe. “In actuality the presentation we heard made it sound like a 92nd Street Y.”
As cited on their Web site, the mission of the Cordoba Institute is “to achieve a tipping point in Muslim-West relations within the next decade, bringing back the atmosphere of interfaith tolerance and respect that we have longed for since Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in harmony and prosperity eight hundred years ago.”
Quoted in Speyser’s column was CB1 Chair Julie Menin: “Board chair Julie Menin, blind-sided by the move, predicts ‘this will be overturned by the full board later this month.’”
Sheffe said Menin told him she was misquoted. Then Menin herself told the Downtown Express, “That was not a completely accurate quote.”
On Wednesday, Peyser stated she “stood by her reporting” and said, “That’s absolutely what she said.”
Menin said she conveyed to Peyser that she could in no way predict how the board would rule. She said she told Peyser that a number of board members had reached out to her in concern after the story broke.
“What I said was that some board members had contacted me and said they thought this issue was not in the purview of the community board,” said Menin. “I said I knew some board members would vote to table the issue and they had asked why this issue had come to the community board.”
Sheffe said he has been interviewed by everyone from CNN to ABC to the BBC.
“This story has gotten huge simply based on the sensationalistic spin,” he said.
All spin aside, the issue will be on the agenda at the CB1 full board meeting on May 25. Menin pointed to numerous outcomes.
“A couple of things can happen,” said Menin. “The full board can approve the resolution as is, they can turn the resolution down, or they can make amendments. It can also be tabled.”
The fact is, the community board has no authority in whether the Cordoba House moves to the site or not.
“What I think is unfortunate is that there were a lot of inaccurate stories written,” said Menin. “The fact is right - they don’t need any approval from the community.”
She said she has reached out to the Cordoba Initiative to ask them to present at the full board meeting later this month.