Bloomberg Defends Controversial Comments From Imam Rauf

NEW YORK (CBS 2/AP) — Mayor Michael Bloomberg hosted his annual Ramadan Iftar dinner Tuesday night at Gracie Mansion. But it was the proposed mosque in lower Manhattan that dominated this year’s event.

CBS 2’s Rob Morrison reports Bloomberg greeted his guests by reiterating his support of the proposed mosque near ground zero.

“If we say that a mosque or a community center should not be built near the perimeter of the World Trade Center site we would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom,” Bloomberg said.

In attendance was Sharif El-Gamal, the developer of the proposed mosque.

“He touches my heart every time that I get to hear his issues on our rights as Americans,” El-Gamal said of Bloomberg.

Also on hand was Daisy Khan, co-founder of the group planning the mosque and the wife of Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf.

Rauf has been called controversial hate-monger by some for comments like the one he made in a speech he gave five years ago.

“We tend to forget, in the West, that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al-Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims,” Rauf said.

But on Tuesday night, Bloomberg defended the imam as a man of peace.

“Each of us may strongly agree or strongly disagree with particular statements that he has made, and that’s how it should be,” the mayor said.

LISTEN: 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reports

A small group of people opposed to the mosque gathered across from Gracie Mansion. Andy Sullivan told CBS 2 if he could speak directly to El-Gamal and Khan at Tuesday night’s dinner, he’d plead with them to reconsider the location.

“You are sitting on a pot of PR gold. You can beat me in one fell swoop. Just move it,” Sullivan said.

Earlier in the day Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver weighed in on the mosque controversy. He said he thinks moving it farther away is sensible and would be more sensitive to opponents.

“In the spirit of living with others, they should be cognizant of the feelings of others and try to find a location that doesn’t engender the deep feelings the currently exist about this site,” Silver said.

“I think the sponsors should take into very serious consideration the kind of turmoil that’s been created and look to compromise,” Silver said.

Governor David Paterson, who earlier said he’d like to help broker a compromise, met Tuesday with Archbishop Timothy Dolan to try to suggest an alternative.

CBS 2’s John Slattery reports Dolan said he and the governor don’t pretend to have all the answers.

“I simply said…that the proposal merits some consideration.  Whether I’d be for it or not, I’m not prepared to say at this time,” Dolan said.

“I think the Archbishop and I are both chagrined and feeling a great deal of pain over what we see is a smoldering issue that is setting New Yorkers against each other,” Paterson said.

The governor said he believes an appeal must be made to those behind the Islamic site to consider going elsewhere.

“Just so as not to ignite any further fears and anxiety of the people who live there, the family members of those who perished there…that’s something that we can make an appeal, we’re making an appeal,” Paterson said.

Senator Charles Schumer also weighed in on the controversy Tuesday.

“As I’ve said over the last several weeks, I’m not opposed to it…and I think that’s the appropriate thing for me to say,” Schumer said.

The co-founder of the group hoping to build the mosque — Rauf — is currently on a Mideast trip funded by the U.S. State Department.

He alluded to the controversy at a dinner Sunday night for student leaders at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Manama, Bahrain.

“The fact we are getting this kind of attention is a sign of success,” Rauf said.

(The Associated Press Contributed To This Report.)