Panel Vote Could Clear Way for Ground Zero Mosque

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NEW YORK -- A contentious plan for a mosque near the World Trade Center site will get a boost if New York City's landmarks panel votes Tuesday to allow the demolition of the building that the mosque would replace.

The mosque would be part of an Islamic community center to be operated by a group called the Cordoba Initiative, which says the center will be a space for moderate Muslim voices.

But opponents say building a mosque near ground zero would be an insult to the memory of those who died at the hands of Muslim extremists on Sept. 11, 2001.

Foes of the mosque are expected to attend Tuesday's meeting of the city Landmarks Preservation Commission, which is voting on whether to grant landmark status to the 152-year-old building that would be torn down to make way for the Islamic center.

The commission's job is to determine whether the building is architecturally important enough to preserve, not to consider the merits of the proposed mosque.

Oz Sultan, the program coordinator for the proposed Islamic center, said last week that the building has been changed too much over the years to qualify as a landmark.

"I think a lot of the negativity we're getting is coming from people who are politically grandstanding," Sultan said. "We're completely open and transparent."

Rick Bell, the executive director of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, said the building does not deserve landmark status.

"The nature of the current building isn't worth preserving," Bell said.

If the commission agrees, demolition and construction of the mosque can proceed.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg supports the mosque's construction. But the project has drawn opposition from former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, among others.

A leading Jewish oranization come out against the mosque last week. The Anti-Defamation League said "some legitimate questions have been raised" about the Cordoba Initiative's funding and possible ties with "groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values."