Earlier today, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Committee voted not to grant landmark status to the building two blocks from Ground Zero that is now destined to become a mosque and community center (and 9/11 memorial). Chadwick Matlin reports on how it all went down.
Before the hearing, there are no protesters in sight. Pamela Geller, who has long led a campaign against the mosque on her blog, Atlas Shrugs, stands calmly outside the auditorium. Mingling near her are mosque proponents, both private citizens and political advocates. For now, they’re all behaving themselves.
The hearing begins, and it’s clear the Daily News didn’t get it wrong. The commission isn’t going to stand in the way of the mosque being built. One by one, the commissioners explain why they can’t give the building landmark status. The main problem: There are too many other buildings just like it some of which are already landmarks. Many of the commissioners want to weigh in on the larger political debate but restrain themselves.
In the midst of the speeches, nearly every camera in the room turns its lens to the audience. A woman has walked in silently, holding an American flag and a sign. “Don’t glorify murders of 3,000,” it reads, “NO 9/11 victory mosque.” And on the other side: “Islam builds mosques at the sites of their conquests and victories.” She is Linda Ribera, a Manhattan resident with no connection to anyone who died in 9/11. Clearly emotional, she sits solemnly as the cameras click and roll. Once the hearing is over, she will break down. “Don’t you care that they murdered 3,000 of our American brother and sisters? Don’t you have a heart?“
Elsewhere in the auditorium, Ribera is joined by fellow opponents. Joan Romanelli is in the corner, holding a small piece of paper with a picture of 47 Park Place and these words: “Save This Landmark Building.” As the commissioners talk, the tears flow. Later, she says to me, “If I have to sit on a wrecking ball I will.“ Across the aisle from Joan is a woman in a pink visor. Her sign: “This mosque celebrates our murders.” The proponents of the mosque have only one sign, from what I can see: “NEW YORK CELEBRATES DIVERSITY.”
The hearing ends, and there’s a moment of pregnant silence. Then, applause. After that, screaming, as mosque supporters are quickly drowned out by the protesters.
“Has anybody lost anybody on 9/11 up there?“ Queens resident Andy Sullivan screams, “Because be sure to look in those cameras and apologize for the disgrace that just transpired here.“ Later, he tells a swarm of press, “It’s hurtful to the memories of those people. I lost good friend’s coworkers, a school crush, a girl that meant the world to me when I was 14 years old. She’s not here today because of those planes.“
From elsewhere in the auditorium: “Shame on you! Shame on you silly liberals!” Geller picks up on this and tries to start a chant. “Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!” Nobody joins in.
Outside the auditorium, the lobby has become a spin room. Ad hoc press conferences are set up feet from one another. Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio holds court, urging his opponent, Andrew Cuomo, to look into the finances of the mosque in Cuomo’s capacity as attorney general. After Lazio ends his availability, one man screams that Lazio’s opposition to the mosque means he’s trying to set up a new anti-Islam apartheid.
The CEO of SoHo Properties, who’s leading the mosque’s real-estate efforts, is all smiles. He comes up to Isaac Luria, a VP at J Street, an Israeli lobby that backs the community center’s construction, and is boisterous with his praise. He blesses Luria, and says how lucky he is to have J Street’s support. It’s especially poignant because another Jewish group, the Anti-Defamation League, has said they don’t support the mosque.
As the spin slows down, everyone begins to file out to Spruce Street. Across the way, construction workers are erecting the frame for a new, secular building. Nobody seems to notice.