Beach councilman drops resolution on ground zero mosque
Councilman Bill DeSteph has dropped his effort to get the City Council to join him in opposing plans for a Muslim community center near the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan.
DeSteph sent a letter last week to New York City political leaders that said "the citizens of Virginia Beach and the Commonwealth of Virginia" are opposed to the center. Mayor Will Sessoms and Vice Mayor Louis Jones criticized DeSteph for using city letterhead to write the letter and for portraying city and Virginia residents as agreeing with his opinion.
DeSteph said Tuesday that he will not bring a resolution on the issue before council members as he'd planned - at least not now.
"I'm going to wait and see what the will of council is," he said. "I'm not going to push if people don't want to support it."
Va. Beach councilman's mosque letter shaped partly from website
The letter Councilman Bill DeSteph sent to New York City officials last week objecting to plans for a Muslim community center near the World Trade Center site is almost identical to an online petition by a political advocacy group.
The organization, ACT! for America, is run by Brigitte Gabriel, the mother of DeSteph's girlfriend, a college student. DeSteph and his wife are separated.
Gabriel is an "expert on global terrorism" who speaks against radical Islam, according to her website.
"Brigitte helped me write the letter. The first one I drafted wasn't as clear as I wanted," DeSteph said.
DeSteph said he decided to write to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council after people in Virginia Beach complained to him about the Muslim center plan.
The June 3 letter said "the citizens of the City of Virginia Beach and the Commonwealth of Virginia" are opposed to it.
"A ton of our constituents had come to me on this," he said.
DeSteph declined Friday to name the Beach residents whose complaints prompted him to write the letter. DeSteph said he doesn't want those residents "raked over the coals."
Mayor Will Sessoms and other council members criticized DeSteph for using the city's letterhead and wording the letter so that it looked as if he were speaking for the city and its residents.
DeSteph's letter copies much of the exact language of the petition on the ACT website.
The proposed New York City center, called the Cordoba House, would include a prayer space, a 500-seat performing arts center, a culinary school and a restaurant. The center would be in an existing building two blocks from where the twin towers stood.
DeSteph said Gabriel and her daughter didn't influence his decision to speak against the center. He said it didn't occur to him to identify the source of the information in his letter.
Gabriel said DeSteph's relationship with her and her daughter was "irrelevant" to the letter he sent to New York City officials.
"I know Bill because Bill is close to my family," she said.
Gabriel is the author of "They Must Be Stopped: Why We Must Defeat Radical Islam and How We Can Do It" and "Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America."
She said politicians regularly use her material for letters, but she could not name one who wrote a letter similar to DeSteph's. A link to DeSteph's letter and a news story about it are featured on her website.
"Whether it's Bill DeSteph in Virginia Beach or someone in Miami, the information we put out is for people to use in their letters," she said. "He asked me if he could use it, and I said yes. A lot of elected officials are interested in this topic. He's not the only one. We have a database of 88,000 elected officials, and Bill is just one of them."
The website for ACT! for America describes the group as an "advocacy organization dedicated to educating millions of uninformed citizens about the threat of radical Islam to world peace and national security."
The site says: "We should all be very grateful for the courageous stand Bill has taken. We are proud that as an ACT! for America member and public servant he has set a stellar example for fellow public servants across America."