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David Paterson expects to meet soon with mosque developers

New York Gov. David Paterson expects to meet with the developers of the proposed mosque near Ground Zero later this week. Reuters photo.

By Jason Horowitz and Chris Cillizza
Updated at 3:41 p.m.
New York Gov. David Paterson, who last week sought to entice the backers of a proposed mosque near Ground Zero to consider another location, expects to meet soon with the Islamic center's developers, a spokesman for the governor said Tuesday.

"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," said spokesman Morgan Hook. "However, we expect to have a meeting scheduled in the near future."

Paterson (D) told Rep. Peter King (R) he will meet "later this week" with the imam and developer of the proposed mosque to discuss the possibility of building in an "alternate location," the congressman said in an interview. King, an outspoken opponent of placing the mosque and Islamic cultural center so close to where terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, said Paterson told him about the meeting in a phone call Tuesday morning.

In a statement, however, developers of the Islamic complex denied that they had agreed to meet with Paterson. "To the best of our knowledge, a meeting has not been scheduled," read the statement. "We appreciate the Governor's interest as we continue to have conversations with many officials."

The issue, which has been bubbling in New York City for months, took on a national profile on Friday when President Obama seemed to offer a tacit endorsement of the construction by expressing support for religious freedom. Less than 24 hours later, however, Obama recalibrated his message, saying that he had not meant to endorse the mosque project and was speaking only of the group's right to build it.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), who faces a tough re-election race this fall, issued a statement in which he declared support for moving the mosque to an alternate location.

Republicans -- particularly those looking at running for president in 2012 -- have hammered away at Obama and Democrats for insensitivity and ignoring the wishes of families of some of those killed in the attacks.

Last week, Paterson offered state assistance if the mosque's developers would agree to move the project farther from the site -- an idea they rejected. Paterson said that, while he had "no objection" to the project as planned, he was "very sensitive to the desire of those who are adamant against it to see something else worked out."

"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 at an Aug. 10 news conference in Manhattan, according to published reports. He noted that "we really are still suffering in many respects" from the Sept. 11 attacks.

The developer declined the offer. "While we have a tremendous amount of respect for our governor... this has always been about serving Lower Manhattan," mosque developer Sharif El-Gamal said, according to reports.

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By Jason Horowitz and Chris Cillizza  |  August 17, 2010; 11:19 AM ET
Categories:  White House  
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