ALBANY, N.Y. – Gov. David Paterson, who last week suggested that developers of a proposed Islamic center and mosque near ground zero might want to consider a different location, will meet soon with them, a spokesman said Tuesday.
Paterson's office declined to say what the meeting would be about, but Rep. Peter King told The Associated Press that the governor wants to discuss possible alternate locations for the Park51 Islamic cultural center and mosque. King said he spoke with the governor Tuesday.
Representatives of the project said no meeting had been scheduled.
Paterson last week offered his help and the possibility that state land could be provided as an alternate site for the center. The project has ignited nationwide debate over freedom of religion and anger over the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The planned $100 million center would be built two blocks from the World Trade Center site, where nearly 2,800 people died when Islamic extremists flew jets into the twin towers. The project is headed by Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, a Muslim cleric who has worked to improve relations between Islam and the West.
Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook said talks were under way between the governor's office and representatives of Park51 to set up a meeting between Paterson and the project's leaders.
"We are working with the developers on a staff level, but there have not been any formal discussions between the governor and imam or developer," Hook said. "We expect to have a meeting scheduled in the near future."
Mosque spokesman Oz Sultan released a statement Tuesday saying he did not believe a meeting had been scheduled.
"We appreciate the governor's interest as we continue to have conversations with many officials," Sultan said.
When project developer Sharif El-Gamal was asked by a local news station if he planned to consider moving the project, he was adamant he would not: "Not at all," he told NY1 on Tuesday.
He added that the World Trade Center site is not even visible from the building where the center would be.
"In New York City, two blocks is a great distance," he said, adding that some buildings in the city have their own zip codes. "We are nowhere near the World Trade Center site."
One of the most strident opponents of the project, Republican candidate for governor Carl Paladino, supports the talks sought by the Democratic governor. A mosque near ground zero would be like erecting a Japanese Navy memorial at Pearl Harbor, Paladino said.
"If Governor Paterson's meeting brings about an agreeable legal solution which puts no burden on the taxpayers, it deserves full consideration," his spokesman Michael Caputo said.
The Washington Post first reported the talks were under way.
King, the ranking minority leader of the Homeland Security Committee, said that he had spoken to Paterson on Tuesday and that the governor expected the meeting to take place within days.
"He said he is meeting in the next day or so with the developers and the leaders of the mosque to discuss his proposal to move it to state land. My understanding was the imam is going to be there," King told The Associated Press.
Rauf was scheduled to leave this week on a two-week trip to the Middle East as part of a religious outreach effort by the Department of State.
Fouhy reported from New York.