With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 just a few weeks away, Sharif El-Gamal has gone on a media offensive. Despite the controversy last summer that consumed him and Park51, the so-called ground zero mosque, Mr. El-Gamal has not shied away from the press this August, talking to various outlets about progress on the project, and even launching a fundraiser despite the potential for it to stir criticism yet again. Now he has gone on Inside City Hall to confront Bob Turner, who attacked the mosque in a recent campaign ad.
Mr. El-Gamal said he was disappointed but not surprised with the appearance of the ad, though he also doubts its success in this city. “The right wing has tried this already, and it’s failed miserably for them,” he said. “New York is better than that. New York is so much better than that. What’s really sad and pathetic is that a politician is entering the race with a misleading ad. We are not building a mosque on ground zero. This is a man who wants to become a leader? That’s pathetic.”
Mr. Turner is running against Assemblyman David Weprin for Anthony Weiner’s Brooklyn and Queens congressional seat, which he vacated after Twittergate.
Mr. El-Gamal also shed some light on the difficulty he has had in getting the project off the ground. “We’ve been dealing with a PR crisis for the last 12 months,” he said. “Our goal was, we needed to get the facts out about what we were doing. We were dealing with a man media campaign against this project that was waging misinformation and essentially deceiving the public about what we were trying to do.” There hasn’t even been time to meet with any bankers because of it, though The Observer cannot help but wonder if there would be loans or much fundraising anyway, even without the controversy, given the state of the economy and the real estate market in the city and beyond.
Park51 will soon be hosting its first public event, a photography show of children living in New York who come from 170 countries around the world. “It will demystify what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to build,” Mr. El-Gamal said. “This project is really representative of the ethos of what we are embarking on.” The show opens in the fall, and a sample of the photos can be seen here.