Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday he doesn't know where the organizers of the proposed mosque and Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero are getting their financing—and that he doesn't believe it should be the government's business.
"People say, 'Well, you know, do they have the money? Can they raise the money? Where does it come from?' I don't know," said the mayor, a staunch defender of the proposed center, on his weekly radio show.
"Do you really want every time they pass the basket in your church and you throw a buck in, they run over and say, 'OK, now, you know, where do you come from? Who are your parents? Where did you get this money?' No," he said.
"A handful of people," he concluded, "ought to be ashamed of themselves."
The mayor's comments drew immediate criticism from Republican leaders, including Rep. Pete King of Long Island, the ranking member of the homeland security committee, and former Rep. Rick Lazio, who is running for governor of New York.
The center—planned to rise two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center—is projected to cost upwards of $100 million.
"This is different from your average church, your average temple," Mr. King said in an interview. "The $100 million funding should definitely be investigated."
He said the government would be "acting properly" in conducting a civil investigation of the mosque's funding. Asked to explain the basis of the probe, he said key factors include the large amount of money involved and the controversy with its location. "And, thirdly," he said, "the fact that there's been a pattern, especially in the New York metropolitan area, of mosques being sympathetic to terrorism, or at least having a blind eye when it comes to terrorism."
John Esposito, professor of religion and international affairs and Islamic studies at Georgetown University, denounced Mr. King's remarks as irresponsible. "He operates in a context which sort of says these people are potentially guilty until they're proven innocent," he said.
Mr. Lazio said New Yorkers have a right to know the identity of those funding the project. He called on his Democratic opponent, Andrew Cuomo, to launch a probe, which he has so far refused to do.
In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Daisy Khan, a partner in the building and the wife of the cleric leading the effort, said that none of the money has been raised yet for the center. She wouldn't rule out accepting foreign funding, but said the group would be careful about who it took money from.
The organizers have pledged not to accept money from persons with anti-American views or agendas. Generally speaking, there's no legal requirement for a nonprofit, such as this group, to release a donor list.
On Thursday, Rep. Anthony Weiner, a potential 2013 mayoral candidate, sent a letter praising Mr. Bloomberg for the stirring speech he delivered on religious freedom earlier in the week. He also wrote that he hoped there would be a process moving forward where the "other great hallmarks of democracy are respected—transparency and tolerance of all view points."
He declined repeated requests to clarify his position.
Meanwhile, on Friday, a New Hampshire group sued the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in federal court, saying the agency has refused to run its bus advertisement in opposition to the proposed mosque.
The American Freedom Defense Initiative sought to run an ad that said "Why There?" and depicted the Twin Towers burning and a plane headed toward them, according to the lawsuit.
An MTA spokesman said, "No decision has been made on this ad."