By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
"I think they should build their mosque, but not right here," she said before she testified. She cited the bitter battle over a Catholic convent adjacent to the Auschwitz death camp. Pope John Paul II agreed to move it after Jews, mostly Americans, voiced outrage. "I don't remember people accusing them of being anti-Catholic for feeling that way," she said. "And I resent anyone saying I'm anti-Muslim."
This is the kind of situation that calls for leadership, and the response of the two top candidates for governor has been instructive. Republican Rick Lazio has made the mosque a key issue in his wobbling campaign. He showed up at the hearing to denounce the sponsors as anti-Americans using suspect funds. "I will use every means at my disposal to slow this process down so we get every question answered," he said.
On the other hand, the mosque has been Democrat Andrew Cuomo's finest hour so far: "What are we about if not religious freedom?" he asked, his voice rising as reporters first hammered him on the issue. Last week, despite polls showing that most New Yorkers oppose the mosque, Cuomo was sticking to that position. "There's valid sentiment on one side, and valid principle on the other," he said. "In some ways, it's so ironic. The 9/11 site is about freedom and liberty. It would be the ultimate defeat, I believe, to reject it."
Down on Church Street, the plaza alongside Ground Zero where tourists and mourners once gathered is now part of a busy construction site. Visitors are directed to the temporary museum around the corner on Vesey Street, across from the St. Paul's cemetery. The space is filled with trinkets that help pay for the planned memorial—mugs, T-shirts, caps, keychains—along with wrenching exhibits and videos. On Thursday, a man in standard summer tourist gear—shorts and a backpack—burst out the museum's door and stepped between two parked cars. He pulled off his glasses and stood squeezing his eyes, shoulders heaving. A couple of minutes later, John Camilleri, 43, of Toronto, recovered. "I never cry," he said. "It's just so damn awful." He'd heard about the mosque debate. "You know, every Muslim's not a terrorist," he said, "but it seems awfully close. What I really want," he added, before walking away to catch up with his family, "is just to get the one who did this, that Osama."