Opinion

MICHAEL GOODWIN: Could New York's Lame Duck Guv Be the Savior In the Mosque Mess?

The first is the most powerful man in the world, a charismatic politician whose election made history.

The second is among the richest men in the world, a businessman-turned-pol who has an iron grip on New York City's levers of power.

The third man's public life is winding down, his accidental tenure as governor largely a bust. He is blind, and yet of the three amigos, he is the only one able to see a way to settle the Ground Zero mosque dispute.
President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg would seem to have it all, but Gov. Paterson stands head and shoulders above them today. His steady common sense is winning the peace while Obama and Bloomberg spewed nonsense and inflamed a holy war.

The report that developers of the mosque might be willing to meet with Paterson to hear his offer to find another location is vindication of the gov's wisdom. A week ago, the developers rejected the offer, but the storm of condemnation has apparently opened their minds.

Whatever the outcome, the president and the mayor ought to thank Paterson for providing a possible settlement to a mess they both made worse.

I'll do it for them, and for all of us. Thank you, Gov. Paterson, for this lesson in leadership. It is your finest hour as a public servant.

Let's rewind the tape to see how we got here. The mosque was a simmering controversy until Aug. 3, when Bloomberg pushed it to a whole other level. In an overstaged and overpraised speech on Governors Island, Bloomy positioned himself so news cameras could see the Statue of Liberty behind him. The self-aggrandizement was matched only by the hot air he blew on the flames.

Going back to dig up ancient examples of religious bigotry in New York, the mayor described the mosque in apocalyptic terms, declaring: "I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state, as important a test as we may see in our lifetimes . . . and it is critically important that we get it right."

Days later, he said opponents "ought to be ashamed of themselves" and said he didn't care where the $100 million comes from to build it.

If the intent was to settle the dispute, the speech and subsequent attacks were a grand flop. They polarized the city -- most New Yorkers disagreed with the mayor -- and his accusations of bigotry raised the level of bitterness and tension.

Equally troubling, the speech danced around inconvenient facts. To wit, the only government action involved was a call to landmark the buildings on the site.

The designation had been denied that day, clearing the way for the project. Thus, Bloomberg was concocting out of whole cloth fears of government improperly restricting a house of worship.

A week later, Paterson entered the fray. Saying "there is no reason why" the 13-story Islamic center could not be built two blocks from Ground Zero, Paterson, speaking without notes, saw the human side of the opposition.

"I'm very sensitive to the desire of those who are adamant against it to see something else worked out," he said. After adding that he also respected the developers' rights, he said: "How much more foresighted would it have been if the imam who is the developer of the project had been willing to hear what we are actually talking about."

The next day, he announced that the developers had formally rejected any consideration of moving.

Two days after that, Obama added more gasoline to the fire. In front of a Muslim audience at the White House, he copied Bloomberg's religious liberty approach and said, "Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else," and that includes "on private property in lower Manhattan."

He tried to skim back the next day, saying he wasn't actually supporting a mosque on the site, but it was too late. The subject was now fair game for politicians across the nation and with polls showing two out of three Americans oppose the mosque, Obama has put his party in further peril.

Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a tough re-election fight in Nevada, said he supports freedom of religion, but thinks the mosque "should be built someplace else." (Bloomberg, who has given money to Reid, yesterday passed up the chance to lump Reid in with other "bigots" who want the mosque to move.)
In effect, Reid copied the Paterson position. And now other Dems are following, including some in New York, such as Staten Island Rep. Mike McMahon.

My bet is that many more people and pols will quickly join them. When they become a critical mass, the only realistic outcome will be for the developers to move to another site.

A meeting with Paterson may prove pivotal. We can say it then, but let's also say it again now. Thank you, Gov. Paterson.

Michael Goodwin is a New York Post columnist and Fox News contributor. To continue reading his column, click here

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Michael Goodwin is a Fox News contributor and New York Post columnist.

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