NEW YORK (CBS 2/WCBS 880/1010 WINS/AP) — Despite recent assurances from the developer Sharif El-Gamal, an overwhelming number of New Yorkers want prosecutors to keep tabs on the financing for the proposed mosque and cultural center near Ground Zero.
A new poll by Quinnipiac University shows that by a margin of 71 to 21, New Yorkers want the mosque moved someplace else, and by a margin of 71 to 22, they want Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to investigate the source of the funding.
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Cuomo, a Democrat running for governor, has said little about the issue. He said it’s protected by the Constitution, although he will investigate if concerns are found.
The poll finds the same percentage of New Yorkers want the developers of an Islamic center and mosque near ground zero to voluntarily move the project.
Sixty-three percent of New York City voters polled think the builders should voluntarily find another spot, compared to 28 percent who don’t and 9 percent who don’t have an opinion.
In upstate and suburban counties, 76 percent of voters favor a move, compared to 17 percent who don’t and 7 percent who don’t have an opinion.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg stood firm and refused to back down from his strong support for the controversial mosque near ground zero.
Bloomberg shrugged off reports Tuesday that the imam behind the project was a slumlord.
“I don’t know anything about his personal life,” Bloomberg said. “The issue here is very simple, the government shouldn’t be in the business of telling people who they pray to, where they pray, when they pray, what they say.”
He believes the mosque would add to the character of the neighborhood and the city.
In addition, Bloomberg says an investigation by Cuomo into the finances of the proposed $100 million Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero would set “a terrible precedent.”
Bloomberg says there’s no reason for the government to investigate donations to religious organizations.
U.S. Rep. Peter King disagrees. The ranking minority leader of the Homeland Security Committee says “a number” of terror plots have ‘emanated from mosques.” He cited the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center as an example.
“The heated, sometimes angry debate over the proposal to build a mosque two blocks from ground zero has New York state voters twisted in knots,” said Quinnipiac poll Director Maurice “Mickey” Carroll.
“The Q findings show that the terrorists, the people who blew up the World Trade Center, and who continue to do things like that have convinced an awful lot of people that Islam is a menace, is a violent religion,” Carroll told WCBS 880.
The poll finds 54 percent of New Yorkers agree the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion allows the mosque to be built near ground zero. Forty percent disagree.
But 53 percent feel that because of the “sensitivities of Sept. 11 relatives,” Muslims shouldn’t be about allowed to build a mosque near ground zero. Thirty-nine percent disagree.
Carroll said the poll also asked whether they thought Islam was a peaceful religion or if it encouraged violence.
“54 percent said ‘peaceful’ but 24 percent, almost a quarter of respondents…said it encouraged violence,” Carroll told WCBS 880.
Carroll said the poll shows New Yorkers want a potential compromise, a voluntary change of location for the project that would likely result in a feeling of goodwill. But the developers so far haven’t chosen to consider a new site, despite offers by Gov. David Paterson to use state resources to look at sites farther from ground zero.
Quinnipiac questioned 1,497 registered voters Aug. 23-29. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)