A request made all the more outrageous by the fact that Rauf & Co. have shown themselves to be some of the most startlingly incompetent managers of money and property in recent memory:
In late August, we found out that the mosque developers were tax deadbeats to the tune of $224,000. In an application for tax-exempt status, Rauf claimed to operate a mosque that could hold 500 people, but in reality was an apartment that could not hold so many worshipers if they were crammed in like clowns in a Volkswagen. Rauf has filed a false tax return. He is a slumlord — the worst in Union City, New Jersey.
Meanwhile, the thug Sharif el-Gamal has been sued for an unpaid loan, and faced eviction from his SoHo office over $39,000 in back rent. He was found to owe $21,000 in fines on a property with 13 violations. And there are other unanswered questions.
And now they want more money — your money. The sense of entitlement that pervades the entire Ground Zero mosque project never ceases to amaze, as unsurprising as it is given the triumphalist agenda that drives it.
“Mosque Money Shocker,” by John Avlon for the Daily Beast, November 22 (thanks to all who sent this in):
Developers of the controversial Park51 Islamic community center and mosque located two blocks from Ground Zero earlier this month applied for roughly $5 million in federal grant money set aside for the redevelopment of lower Manhattan after the attacks of September 11th, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
The audacious move stands to reignite the embers of a divisive debate that dominated headlines surrounding the ninth anniversary of the attacks this fall, say people vested in the issue.
The application was submitted under a “community and cultural enhancement” grant program administered by the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Corporation (LMDC), which oversaw the $20 billion in federal aid allocated in the wake of 9/11 and is currently doling out millions in remaining taxpayer funds for community development. The redevelopment board declined to comment on the application (as did officials from Park51), citing the still ongoing and confidential process of determining the grant winners.
While news of the application has not previously been made public, developer Sharif El-Gamal outlined it in closed-door meetings, according to two individuals he spoke with directly. The thirtysomething, Brooklyn-born El-Gamal is motivated more by real estate ambition–one of these sources describes him as aspiring to be the next Donald Trump–than Islamic theology or ideology.
Well, he’s not The Donald. But why couldn’t it be both?
Park51’s developers clearly had a legal right to apply for the grant. A list of Frequently Asked Questions that accompanied the application specifically states that religious organizations can make funding requests for capital projects “as long as the request is for a facility or portion of a facility that is dedicated to non-religious activities or uses.” According to an individual familiar with the Park51 application, it requests funds to cover a number of cultural, educational and community development aspects of the proposed 13-story building–but the prayer room is excluded from the grant application.
But the question on whether they could have is trumped by the question of whether they should have. The stated aim of the Park51 developers is to provide a community center for lower Manhattan’s 4,000 Muslim residents. Their own website explained that they understood the need to “appeal to the undecided, and change the conversation about Muslims in America.” It’s pretty clear that this play for federal dollars will generate none of that, starting with the lack of disclosure or community consultation before developers submitted their application, which was due November 5th.
“If Imam Feisal and his retinue want know why they’re not trusted, here’s yet another reason,” says Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble with Islam and Director of the Moral Courage Project at NYU, when I asked her about the grant proposal. “The New Yorkers I speak with have questions about Park51. Requesting money from public coffers without engaging the public shows a staggering lack of empathy–especially from a man who says he’s all about dialogue.” […]
But the project likely doesn’t quality for a grant in the first place. Specifically, the grant criteria mandate a demonstration of a project’s financial feasibility, based on benchmarks set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The government will help complete development projects–but it does not provide seed capital. And in their last public financial statement, Park51 was found to have less than $20,000 in the bank for a project with a slated cost of $100 million.