New York Gov. David Paterson offered state help Tuesday if the developers of a proposed mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks agree to move the project farther from the site.
Paterson, a Democrat, said that he doesn't oppose the project as planned but indicated that he understands where opponents are coming from. He said he was willing to intervene to seek other suitable state property if the developers agreed.
"I think it's rather clear that building a center there meets all the requirements, but it does seem to ignite an immense amount of anxiety among the citizens of New York and people everywhere, and I think not without cause," Paterson said in a news conference in Manhattan.
"I am very sensitive to the desire of those who are adamant against it to see something else worked out," Paterson said.
The developers declined to comment. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who last week made an impassioned defense of the project planned for lower Manhattan, also had no immediate comment.
Paterson said he expects the state Public Service Commission, which must sign off on the project, to follow the law and not politics in its review.
Paterson noted that "we really are still suffering in many respects" from Sept. 11 and that impassioned feelings were bound to emerge from a mosque just a couple of blocks from where nearly 3,000 people died at the hands of Muslim extremists.
He noted that Muslims died in the Sept. 11 attacks, too, and that "we have to remember that sometimes it's the fanaticism of religion that have driven people to do what they do, not the worship of the religion itself."
A Marist College poll released Tuesday found that 53 percent of New York City voters polled oppose constructing the mosque there. Just 34 percent favored the plan in the poll, which also showed a slide in Bloomberg's traditional high approval ratings.
The Marist poll surveyed 809 New York City residents July 28 through Aug. 5 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
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