NEW YORK (CBS 2 / WCBS 880/1010 WINS/ AP) -- It was clear from the speech he gave at the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf intended to cast himself as a moderate Muslim and a proud New Yorker.
"I vote in elections, I pay taxes. I pledge allegiance to the flag. And I am a Giants fan," Rauf said.
But, as CBS 2's Marcia Kramer reports, he lost the support of many New Yorkers when he said the spot near ground zero where he wants to put his mosque and cultural center is not hallowed ground.
"It is absolutely disingenuous as many have said that that block is hallowed ground, with strip joints around the corner with betting parlors. Let's clarify that misperception," Rauf said.
But there are some who say it is the imam who has the "misperception."
"I think that may be where he differs with the American people and the people of New York City. It is indeed hallowed ground as much as Gettysburg or Pearl Harbor or Auschwitz," state GOP leader and member of the Council on Foreign Relations Edward Cox.
Construction worker Andy Sullivan helped pull bodies out of the pit and lost many friends on 9/11.
"To me it is a cemetery. I would never think of building something on top of a cemetery," Sullivan said.
The imam tried to make it seem like he was open to changes.
"We are exploring all options. Everything is on the table," Rauf said.
The imam's wife, Daisy Khan, had the same message.
"Give us some time to make the right decision. We are New Yorkers. We are Muslims. We want to be part of rebuilding lower Manhattan and we just need some time to make the right decision," Khan said.
But it didn't seem like the imam was about to fold his tents and not build his mosque.
"This is an opportunity that we must capitalize on so that those who preach moderation will have a mega-horn to preach and to teach," Rauf said.
Some say the imam won't announce any new decisions until after the November elections.
CBS News' Pamela Falk analyzes Monday's remarks
1010 WINS' John Montone reports from the Council On Foreign Relations
WCBS 880's John Metaxas on the emotional level of this post-9/11 debate
WCBS 880's Ginny Kosola on the Imam's weekend comments
The proposed Islamic center has become a flashpoint for worldwide debate about Islam's place in America nine years after the Sept. 11 attacks. Controversy has colored the fall campaign season and cast a a shadow on this past weekend's commemoration of the attacks, with supporters and opponents of the mosque project both holding rallies nearby.
Rauf says a project meant to foster understanding has become unduly mired in conflict and what he describes as misconceptions of a fundamental clash between Islamic and American values. The Kuwait-born imam used his own life story as an example, saying that his own faith had been shaped by the sense of choosing one's identity that American society provided, compared with the predominantly Muslim society from which he emigrated in 1965.
He said Monday that the Islamic center's organizers were surprised by the uproar and might not have pursued it had they known what was coming.
"The events of these past few weeks have really saddened me to my very core,'' he said, lamenting that the project had been misunderstood, clouded by stereotypes, and "exploited'' by some to push personal or political agendas.
Meanwhile, a new Quinnipiac University poll says 70 percent of American voters believe Muslims have the right to build a mosque and cultural center near ground zero in Manhattan, but 63 percent say doing so would be wrong.
The poll released Monday also says only 38 percent of registered voters surveyed said they have a favorable opinion of Islam, while 40 percent have an unfavorable opinion.
Half of those surveyed say mainstream Islam is a peaceful religion, not one that encourages violence against non-Muslims.
Voters also disapprove of how President Barack Obama is handling the New York mosque controversy, 44 to 31 percent.
The poll surveyed about 1,900 registered voters nationwide from Aug. 31 to Sept. 7 and has a sampling margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.
(TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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