NEW YORK - As scrutiny grows in the controversy of the "Ground Zero Mosque," questions have been raised about a church buried under the rubble of the World Trade Center, then buried in red-tape. While President Obama made it clear that Muslims have the right to build at Ground Zero, whether or not the Greek Orthodox Church has rights is not so obvious.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has insisted that city approval for building a mosque at Ground Zero was simply "business as usual," while the complete lack of progress in roughly eight years of trying to rebuild St. Nicholas Church where it stood before the 9-11 terrorist attacks is probably just "misunderstandings and Greek priests with a lot of bad luck." City zoning laws, and development committees, also play one part of many when determining construction projects in New York City.
To better understand the forces which shape the "Big Apple" skyline, here are some insights from people that have worked behind the scenes:
Cherri Piazzi, Administrative Assistant for NYC: The New York city government prides itself on a policy of tolerance. For example, an artist from the National Endowment of the Arts had a statue called "Liberation" planned for a zoned monument park using one block of land at Ground Zero. Mayor Bloomberg immediately called the ACLU to ensure that special interest groups did not restrict his artistic expression. Within a week of conceptual drawings being posted at City Hall, politically biased people began a petition against "the depiction of Josef Stalin with one boot on the neck of a GOP official, while Wall Street bankers cower beneath an AK-47 wielding Mao Tse-tung." The mayor had been prepared to defend the monument under the 1st Amendment, but the project died soon after a fatal heroin overdose by the man who was commissioned to build the sculpture. Anyway, Mayor Bloomberg is totally about tolerance.
"Knuckles", Port Authority (occupation not given): Oh, we got equality. Our job is making sure public interests are protected, and that's the whole city, not just a couple of blocks here and there.... Let's say Mr Osama bin Laden came in and wanted to build a Greek Orthodox Church. He wouldn't get any special treatment for being a Muslim. In fact, if he was a trouble-maker and didn't want a city councilman's little girl to make her cash car payment on her new Cadillac Escalade, well, he might fall down a flight of stairs. On top of that, Mr bin Laden might also get hit in the head by his own briefcase while he was on the floor moaning something about "oh my leg, oh my leg."
William Brockhouse, Supervisor at NY Planning Dept: Our ethics guidelines prohibit favoritism. We help people by getting the paperwork done. Unfortunately, some people try to cut corners. I know a very, very good inspector ... but sometimes people try to go to another place that's cheaper. When people don't listen to me, it's their own fault if something doesn't get approved. Another example, I know a very, very good architect, and some people don't use him because he's so expensive. Again, when these peoples' forms get lost, or their blueprints are rejected for inconsistent chromatic linear center-lines on trans-utility connectivity codes in regulatory section 1176 of city ordinances ... or some other crap ... IT'S THEIR OWN FAULT. When I tell somebody where to buy, or who to sign a contract with, or to roll over and bark like a dog ... the smart people do what they're told to do, or else.
The case for, or against, equality: Many New Yorkers, and many Americans, feel that St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was special, and that it was not some building that was "equal" to any nameless building that may have fell, or burned down, in 2001. It was a church with 85 years of history, destroyed by terrorism on 9-11. Some argue that allowing a Christian church to be permanently destroyed, refusing to renew its place on hallowed ground, sends a message to the most violent followers of Islam - "destroy our places of worship, and we shall give you the right do as you please with the land."
Last but not least, Father Chrisopher Lambeti, a priest at St. Nicholas Church had a story related to his efforts to rebuild:
Father Lambeti: Whenever I went to City Hall, it seemed like the people there were ... different, like the way they always use the word "hypothetically." For example, I was asked "Hypothetically, if you just happened to be in a dark alley holding a box-cutter, and a bad person causing trouble for city was there, would he maybe disappear without a trace?" Another time, I was asked "Hypothetically, if somebody refused to buy insurance from the right people, what's the chance of a miracle where the man's car explodes in his driveway with a huge fire-ball?" I never understood how those questions had anything to do with getting a building permit.
Among businessmen who have left New York City, the most common conjecture was that building permits could have been approved in a matter of days if the church put $100 million in the "right" government pockets.
... and from Conspiracy Theory connections (no documents provided, mind you): Suspicions exist that the approval for the Ground Zero Mosque was "Jizya" through payment-in-services ... and the "message" of the Times Square Bomb Attempt (May 1, 2010) translated to "you know what we could have done, thank you for your cooperation." "Jizya" is essentially an Islamic tax on "non-believers" in exchange for "protection."