Volume 23, Number 3 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 28 - June 3, 2010
Downtown Express photo by John Bayles
An unprecedented amount of press showed up at Tuesday’s full CB1 meeting to document the board’s controversial vote on the Cordoba Initiative’s move to Lower Manhattan.
CB1 supports Cordoba move Downtown amidst zoo of a meeting
BY John Bayles
Downtown Express photo by John Bayles
Numerous audience members protested by holding signs while those in favor of the resolution spoke.
The good, the bad and the ugly were all on display at Community Board 1’s full board meeting on Tuesday night at 3 Legged Dog Studios. It was the first time that Chairperson Julie Menin had to call in a police presence.
But when all was said and done, after 77 speakers approached the microphone, some unable to speak due to boos from the crowd, the board passed a resolution in support of the Cordoba Initiative’s proposal to build a community center with a prayer center two blocks from Ground Zero at the site of the old Burlington Coat Factory building.
Every person who signed up to speak, either in favor or in opposition of the resolution, was permitted to express his or her opinion. At approximately 9:05 p.m. with a press corps taking up nearly the entire right side of the room – some three hours after the meeting began, when Menin informed the audience that if everyone was to be allowed to speak, their remarks would have to be kept to one minute instead of two. Nonethless, no speaker was turned away.
“It was democracy in action and democracy is never easy,” said Menin on Wednesday. “But what was important was that we allowed everyone to speak and exercise their first amendment rights.
There were people holding signs with pictures of family members lost in the 9/11 attacks and that read: No Mosque at Ground Zero! There were cheers and jeers during and after nearly every speaker and Menin banged her gavel no less than 15 times to call people “out of order.” But at the end of the night, what CB1 did was issue an advisory opinion on a community center in their neighborhood. The resolution passed with 29 members voting favor, 10 people abstaining and 1 person voting in opposition.
“There were definitely some people there who didn’t want to hear what other speakers had to say,” said Menin. “One of the great things about the community board is it allows for a wide variety of opinions to be expressed. I thought it was unfortunate that people came not to listen and to simply shout down others.”
There was discussion of Robert’s Rules of order and what tabling indefinitely meant as opposed to tabling until the next meeting. A first motion to table the discussion until the next full board meeting failed to pass and debate ensued among the board members.
“Regardless of my position on the motion” said CB1 member Bruce Ehrmann, “What I’ve seen here tonight is distressing. I’ve seen a grown woman shout down an 11-year old, I’ve seen a guy in a green wife beater talk about this being a Christian nation – there’s a small brown shirt movement starting in our community and it’s shameful.”
Another board member, Tricia Joyce was hesitant to support the resolution based on what she said was a lack of information. Another nine members who abstained on the final vote cited similar reasoning.
“I cannot in good faith vote on this tonight because I do not know why I’m voting on it,” said Joyce. “This is an as-of-right project and we’re being asked to weigh in on something we have nothing to do with.”
Indeed, the Cordoba Initiative did not need the board’s approval to move forward with their planned project.
At the core of the debate was whether the board should even be debating such an issue. Roe Scheffe, chair of the board’s Financial District committee that passed a unanimous resolution in favor of the center two weeks ago said the motion on the floor was nothing more than an approval of a community center in the board’s district.
Board member Roger Byrom pointed out that the resolution represented an initial, “conceptual idea.”
“[The Cordoba Initiative] have said they are committed to an ongoing dialogue,” said Byrom. “We should accept this resolution.”
But earlier in the meeting, board member Paul Hovitz asked flat out if there would be a prayer center attached to the center. Cordoba’s Executive Director Daisy Khan said earlier during the group’s presentation that there would be a mosque inside of the center. In Hovitz’ eyes, that was enough to make him abstain during the final vote. He was unsure that the board should even be weighing in on any center with a religious aspect to it.
Member Bill Love pointed out the resolution had a final clause in it that stated the board did not take any position on the religious aspects of the center.
“If we kill this, we will be seen as having caved in to the type of bigotry and hatred we’ve witnessed here tonight,” said Love. “We need to stand tall and pass this resolution.”
On Wednesday, CB1 member Bob Townley reflected on the evening. He said he saw hope in what ultimately ensued and came to pass.
”Maybe we are seeing the beginning of real meaningful dialogue that can reduce or eliminate terror. It may be a dream but I see no other way,” said Townley. “There were people who lost loved ones and I am not sure if I could be tolerant if I were put in their position. As for others that showed up to state their political beliefs and their opposition to the community center, they were full of fear and that is sad.”
When asked if it was all over, Menin said on Wednesday, “That’s exactly right, the issue has been voted on, and now it’s time to move on.”