October 19, 2010 / Brooklyn news / Politics / Bay Ridge / McMahon on Line 1

McMahon: No on ‘Ground Zero’ mosque

The Brooklyn Paper
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Bay Ridge’s freshman Democratic Rep. Mike McMahon journeyed to our Downtown offices to seek our endorsement in his quest for re-election. It went pretty well — except for some fireworks between McMahon and Editor Gersh Kuntzman over McMahon’s decidedly un-Democratic opposition to the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” in Lower Manhattan. Kuntzman apparently thought he was lobbing a softball, but later found himself battling McMahon’s vision of American pluralism. Here’s the full transcript of the interview.

Q: By the way, where are you on this so-called “Ground Zero mosque”?

A: It’s not in my district, and under our fundamentals of Constitutional law, there is a right to a house of worship wherever it’s legal under the zoning laws, but I don’t think it’s the right thing to do because it tears at the heart of so many people who lost loved ones on that day. They call me up and they say, “Mike, you’ve been with me through this whole thing, can you find a better location?” And that is the deciding factor for me. If so many people who lost loved ones don’t want it there, that should be taken into consideration. To me, it’s an act of compassion towards those victims. that’s the most important point, not one that says, “We have the right to do it and we feel since it makes sense for us, we should do it.” That’s not the right way to go.

Q: You make that sound so reasonable, but your position is wrong on the law. And it puts you on the side with some very intolerant people.

A: I’m not taking this position because of the anti-immigrant or the anti-Muslim groups are on that side. I’m taking it because the people who lost their children, my friend Nelly Brzezinski lost her son and she said to me, “Please don’t support that, Congressman, because I lost my son there. This is very painful to me. They’re opening wounds.” I don’t know why anyone thinks it’s a good idea to reopen these wounds for these people. It’s crazy.

Q: Crazy? It’s our Constitution. It’s the most noble document in our nation’s history. At the end of the day, it’s all we have.

A: With due respect, I don’t care what you think.

Q: It’s not what I think, it’s the law.

A: I care what the victims of 9-11 think.

Q: There are a lot fewer of them than there are people who believe in upholding the Constitution and our other big principles.

A: That’s fine. I’m not saying that it’s unconstitutional. I’m saying that it opens wounds for victims who have been victimized already and they feel like they’re being victimized again and for that reason, it should be moved to a place that does not do that for them. That’s it. I come from Staten Island, New York. Ten percent of the people killed that day, came from Staten Island. One third of the firefighters. Guys who I grew up with and coached Little League with. And their families and their wives look at me and say, “Mike, just do what you can. We just don’t want to deal with it. We don’t even want reporters to ask us what we think of it.” They want to be left alone. They don’t even want to think about it. They want to get on with their lives and I think they’re entitled to that. I don’t care who it is, if someone is doing something that is offensive to those people. It’s like the people who protest at a warrior’s funeral. Someone comes back from Iraq or Afghanistan and someone is protesting. Do they have the right? Yes, but these people just lost their son or daughter. They don’t deserve that.

Q: There are a lot of things that are distasteful, but fortunately we have the Constitution to protect it.

A: You can have constitutional rights and taste. If it goes to court, the courts will hold it up. If you think that’s appropriate, fine. As I said, the right is there, but I don’t think the appropriateness is there. And I don’t think you send any message other than this is a country where we have rights, but even when we exercise those rights, we should be mindful of the affects of that on other people. Even though we have freedom of speech, it doesn’t mean that you can take your DJ equipment and put it on your front lawn because your neighbor has a right to peace and quiet.

Q: Well, there are time and manner restrictions on free speech, as you know.

A: You’re not going to convince me and I’m not going to convince you.

Q: I’m not trying to convince you. I don’t need to convince you because I’m right on the law.

A: Let’s go to the next issue.

Q: I brought it up because it’s a test of where people are on free speech and freedom of religion. If someone was opening a church at that location, no one would have said anything. And if someone was opening a strip club at that location, nobody would have said anything, but, oh, it’s the Muslims!

A: The people who I know who lost loved ones find it upsetting and would prefer the discussion wasn’t being held. That’s what I’m saying. I’ve answered your question. I do not say it is unconstitutional. I do not say that they don’t have the right. I say that out of the deference of people it upsets because of that, that alone says to me that they should not do it. I wouldn’t do it. I don’t want to upset people unnecessarily when I can find another way. That’s what I think.

Q: Fortunately for you, your opponent, Michael Grimm, feels the same way, so our endorsement won’t hinge on this.

Updated 5:21 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Steven Rosenberg from Park Slope says:
Sir, lukewarm blah, is no wa to go through political life.

A political wave will be washing McMahon away in two weeks. We will still have the worst President ever, but there will be a strong containment field around him. Democracts, Buh Bye!
Oct. 19, 2010, 7:02 am
Natasha from Niles says:
"If someone was opening a church at that location, no one would have said anything. And if someone was opening a strip club at that location, nobody would have said anything"

I support you because neither the people, attending the churches, nor the strippers have attacked US on September, 11!

Oct. 19, 2010, 8:26 am
Natasha from Niles says:
It sounds for me the same way like opening a mosque at Ford Hood!
Oct. 19, 2010, 8:31 am
Dave from Park Slope says:
This guy's a Democrat? Ugh. Let the Republicans have Staten Island back.

We're not going to defeat Islamic terrorism by ratcheting up our own bigotry, people.
Oct. 19, 2010, 8:42 am
BW from Bay Ridge says:
Mosque? What Mosque?

This is a real estate scam plain and simple.

They owe back taxes.

They do not have clear title to the property.

They have no money in the bank.

If they started demo tomorrow, they would not have this thing finished by 9/11/2011/

I dare them to build it - the Landmarks commision rolled over, the mayor rolled over, and the community board rolled over.

You want to start a real controversey that the community board, the Mayor and the Landmarks Com. will fight?

Let Wal-Mart announce they want to open a store on this block.
Oct. 19, 2010, 9:08 am
Nassau Nell from Wycoff says:
Fortunately, 80% of the people agree with McMahon.

I think your editor just wanted to spice up an endorsement meeting.

By the way, when do we see the verbal barrage your editor gave to Grimm ?

Or are we just going to attack McMahon for not being progressive enough ? Of course, in his district, he would LOSE the election if he was.
Oct. 19, 2010, 9:24 am
Steven Rosenberg from Park Slope says:
Whatever. Politicians who seek to obtain or retain office by splitting the difference will be toast this year. The mosque shouldn't be built, but if it legally can, so be it.

The average of good and bad is still bad Rep. McMahon. I hope you can find a job in the private sector that mirrors your milquetoast MO; just don't burden the rest of us with its effects.
Oct. 19, 2010, 11:58 am
Jine from Park Place says:
There has been a prayer room there for quite some time - probably over a year. Now that everyone knows panties are bunching.
Oct. 19, 2010, 3:52 pm
Andrew from Sheepshead Bay says:
What a smart and honest Democratic Congressman!!!
Oct. 20, 2010, 12:05 pm
JRS from Flatbush says:
Love or hate the mosque proposal (I personally am undecided; I see merit in both sides), this article was ridiculous & the interviewer came on like an geeky 8th grader playing hardball reporter. The caption said McMahon 'bristled' on the topic of the mosque---but his responses were actually quite controlled in the face of Kuntzman's persistent, juvenile provocation.

McMahon began by saying, quite clearly, that there's a legal right to build a house of worship anywhere (zoning laws permitting) but he doesn't think it's the right thing to do. Reasonable people will agree that not everything that's legal is the right thing to do, no?
To this, Kuntzman responded that his "position is wrong on the law". Is there a law against feeling something is not the right thing to do? Even as a legislator, he's not obligated to support, or applaud a project which he feels is gratuitously provocative.

McMahon politely explained again that bigotry has nothing to with it for him, his position is one of sensitivity to the many familes he's heard from, saying it's "crazy" to "reopen these wounds for these people".
Kuntzman' response: "Crazy? It’s our Constitution. It’s the most noble document in our nation’s history..."
Hello? Our Constitution declares we must build mosques wherever anyone has a mind to do so?

And so on, ad nauseum. Kuntzman kept bringing up the Constitution, ignoring the fact that McMahon from the first explained his opposition as based not on the project being illegal but provocative & insensitive, and therefore not a good idea. Thinking something is not a good idea based on these concerns is not attempting to subvert the Constitution. Making it out as if it were is childish, false, and extremely unprofessional for an interviewer. If this were the only work I read by Kuntzman, I'd think he's a real moron.
Oct. 23, 2010, 9:07 pm

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