Bob Turner's Crusade Against a Pipe Dream
From the beginning, I’ve been an outspoken supporter of the right of the Islamic community, or any elements thereof, to build their Young Men’s Islamic Association at the site of the former Holy Mother Coat Factory, and an even more outspoken critic of those trying to use the heavy hand of government to interfere with those rights, and of politicians trying to make political hay from such opposition.
I won’t call Bob Turner a shameless whore for opposing this facility, because I have no doubt he believes the crap he’s saying.
That doesn’t mean he isn’t a pandering liar.
Last year, at one point in his race for Congress he said “If they want to build a mosque, they can build it somewhere else—anywhere but Ground Zero."
A month later, Turner decided that “anywhere else ” did not include Sheephead Bay, and spoke at a rally opposing a mosque proposed for that neighborhood.
To take a different position than Turner does not make one a supporter of such a facility.
It makes one a supporter of the First Amendment.
In a statement condemned by many on both the left and right, the President summed it up quite aptly.
"I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That's what our country is about. And I think it's very important as difficult as some of these issues are that we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about."
“But when it comes to matters of religion, I think this distinction gets a bit confusing. I’m after all not a Muslim. And if pressed, I’d have to say that I think Islam is a false doctrine. It’s not the case that there’s is no God but Allah, nor is it true that Mohammed is his prophet. If everyone collectively decided that nobody should ever build a mosque anywhere again, that would be fine by me. Which is just to say that people simply don’t actively support the construction of other people’s religious monuments. You don’t expect Jews to stand up and applaud the construction of new Mormon temples, but I do expect them to acknowledge the right of Mormons to build temples and to stand up to demagogues who would try to abridge that right. And this is what we have going on in Lower Manhattan today.”
The President stood up unequivocally for our American values. As Rabbi Hillel once said, “all the rest is commentary.” In this case, the rest was really none of his business, and required no further comment. The President only said what needed to be said and didn't add anything extraneous and questionable.
David Weprin, who’s said he’d prefer the facility to be located elsewhere, does not meet these exalted standards, but he’s been brave enough to express the belief that the First Amendment applies to all three of the world’s great monotheistic faiths, and to others faiths as well (at least if they live in his district, and they all do), so what he’d prefer is pretty much beside the point; he’d probably prefer to have his own hair too. .
Ironically, what Bob Turner would prefer is pretty much beside the point as well. The courts have ruled with finality, so what Turner’s accomplishing besides fomenting hatred and false hope in the service of winning an election is a mystery.
And, most ironically, his fury is directed at stopping something that is probably never going to happen.
As I said last year,, I defy anyone to read this article and still believe this thing is ever going to happen. In the year which has transpired since, the money picture has not improved. In their last public financial statement, the developer, Park51, was reported having less than $20,000 to build a project slated to cost in the neighborhood of $100 million.
And proceeding with the cringe-inducing tin ear that has been the hallmark of this project, its developer, Sharif El-Gamal, has sent a deadline of September 10th for his latest fundraising drive.
Despite their genius for bad publicity and bad luck, there was a lot to like about Iman Feisal Rau and his wife Daisy, the project’s previous public faces, who were the embodiment of Kumbaya singing, bleeding heart Sufis. If the Raufs were ever to be investigated, the charge would not be suborning terror, but rather criminal naiveté in the 1st degree.
By contrast, Sharif El-Gamal, a real estate hustler, seems to enjoy the gamier side of life a bit too much to be a Wahabbist, and seems too angry to be a Sufi; he bears a far greater resemblance to a US Senator from Louisiana crossed with a State Senator from Flatbush.
Nonetheless, it is worth remembering that if NYC barred the sleazy from the development of real estate projects, our skyline would resemble that of Dayton, Ohio, but with more open spaces.
And though El-Gamal was responding to a real need—the thousands of five time a day praying Muslims who live and work in Lower Manhattan who were previously crowded into two small shteibles, this project seemed more about ego. El-Gamal wanted a place of prayer to show to his non-Islamic associates without being ashamed of its squalor, and he wanted the Muslim community to have a facility as impressive as the Jewish Community Center he himself joined on the Upper West Side.
And he wanted to be the man who made it happen; the developer who could put it together, and show the world what he could build.
He may have been a monotheist, but he still wanted to serve two Gods.
A bit of exposure to El-Gamal makes it hard to believe he was seeking to build a “victory mosque,” at least iin the sense that the Mosque would represent religious triumphalism, rather than his own triumphalism as New York Real Estate’s New Big Swinging Circumcised Dick.
So WHY THERE?
El-Gamal had an answer from the real estate perspective, which was, for those who've purchased anything in this City, entirely credible:
A real estate expert said the same last year in the Daily News, responding to talk by David Paterson’s about finding a different space in the area:
"'There are a lot of developers and a lot of agencies that know a lot about downtown,' said Paterson, who indicated he was looking for 'surplus property or land transfers or title changes that would ameliorate this situation.' It's an interesting idea, except for one problem - there aren't any properties like that. A half-dozen sources who make their living worrying about downtown real estate - in government and in the private sector - say they know of no other suitable space. More telling is that none of them has heard even a whisper of a rumor that Paterson, or anyone on his behalf, has started looking. 'I don't think there's anything there,' said one of them. 'I think this is just an idea of the governor's. Nothing more.'"
Not a chance.
Bob Turner opposes a mosque in Sheepshead Bay.
Defenders of the Coat Factory facility point out, that though it will contain prayer space, it will not be a Mosque, but a “community center,” which will provide much needed facilities for the new and expanding population of Lower Manhattan.
But, at least partially thanks to the opponents, who’ve surely hurt fundraising with their opposition, the community facilities seem more and more a pipe dream, leaving the cite to be used only primarily as a Mosque.
Which brings us to Bob Turner’s latest concern: the use of public money for this facility.
The question I raised had then nothing to do with religion; I would fight to the death for the rights of those who want to build this facility, but regardless of their religion, anyone who is asking for tax free financing had better meet the empirical standards for such a program. Given the $20,000 the developers have in the bank, this did not seem the most prudent investment for City pension funds (though to be fair, the developers have already done more with the Coat Factory than the Port Authority seems to have done with Ground Zero).
Then the developers announced they were seeking a 9/11 Recovery Grant.
My first thought was to be skeptical of any government support for a facility which contains a House of Worship.
While decency and the First Amendment require that politicians have no business opposing or even opining negatively about this facility being built, some of the seemingly irrelevant questions previously raised, do become relevant to the question of government financing.
At the risk of repeating myself, is there really a viable financial plan for this facility?
But they might care if the pool were segregated by gender. Andrea Peyser reports that it will be.
She’s a bigot, and quite often a lying dirtbag.
But what if she’s right?
If no taxpayer money is involved, the First Amendment surely protects their right to do this.
But not on my dime.
Decency and the Fourteenth Amendment require no less.
But by that standard, I’m not sure it makes the cut.
Still, before this does becomes even more of an issue in a Congressional race, and creates even more poison, it might be helpful to ask if this application is anything but a fantasy.
The developers of the facility haven't completed the necessary switch to nonprofit status. As a result, their application is DOA. The agency's rules require all projects to have non-profit status from the Internal Revenue Service to even be considered.
Believe it or not, there’s even more.
1) The application goes way past the suggested range of $100,000 to $1 million that these grants are supposed to fall to within. The entire pool for this round of cultural funding will come around $17 million; the application asks for $5 million.
2) The grant criteria mandate a demonstration of a project’s financial feasibility, based on benchmarks set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The government will help complete development projects—but it does not provide seed capital. And unless one defines $20,000 as seed capital for an $100 million project, the developers are looking SOL.
To that, I’ll add the swimming pool.
According to Avlon, a list of Frequently Asked Questions that accompanied the application specifically states that religious organizations can make funding requests for capital projects “as long as the request is for a facility or portion of a facility that is dedicated to non-religious activities or uses.” According to an individual familiar with the Park51 application, it requests funds to cover a number of cultural, educational and community development aspects of the proposed 13-story building—but the prayer room is excluded from the grant application.
Which is all very well, but a sex segregated pool, while constitutionally protected in a religious facility, surely cannot be funded with public monies.
But even without the pool, this application is dead in the water.
However, even if the tax status were in place, the seed money there, the amount asked for reasonable, and the pool gender neutral, Bob Turner (and David Weprin) would be in no position to disapprove.
Turner, a candidate who put out a piece last year about Anthony Weiner complaining he voted “No” “on Judeo-Christian morals” (not to mention Judeo-Christian women) is hardly in a place to complain about breaching the wall between church and state.
In fact, the Republican Party has been at the forefront of trying to ease the wall regulating how religiously affiliated group can spend government funds, removing safeguards which protect the wall between church and state.
I am the first to admit that some of our City’s best social service providers are religiously affiliated. I don’t object to such groups being funded, provided they live within strict guidelines.
There is nothing in the record of Bob Turner (who, in one piece of lit, outlined four different ways he wanted government to enforce his Church’s views on reproduction, and now screams daily about same-sex marriage), which gives him standing to object to a religious group filing such an application.
Would he object if such an application were filed by the YMCA?
Well, maybe if he knew about the Village People.
I should note that Weprin, who’s served as the City Council’s Santa Clause when it came to religiously affiliated groups, would also be hypocritical if he made this an issue. It’s one thing to fund The Metropolitan Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty; quite another to fund Aguda Israel.
I suppose an elected might be within their rights to oppose such an application based on its specifics.
It might even be their duty.
But Bob Turner does not oppose this application because of any specifics beyond the religion of its sponsors.
And that is just plain despicable.
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