SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Wendy Long, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in New York, has unleashed a series of tweets criticizing the conversion of a Catholic church in Syracuse into a mosque, saying that crime soon followed.
During a visit to Syracuse’s North Side last week, Long tweeted a photograph of a boarded up home near the former Holy Trinity Church on Park Street, converted last year into the Masjid Isa Ibn Maryam mosque.
“Neighborhood where the mosque displaced the church,” Long wrote in her tweet with the photo. “Crime, prostitution, money laundering. Nice Dem control of cities.”
Twelve minutes earlier, Long tweeted a photo of two women walking down the street with what appeared to be traditional Muslim head coverings.
“Catholic Charities takes federal tax dollars to resettle the refugees we can’t screen,” Long tweeted with the photo. “Leaves the Catholics to ISIS.”
She began the series of tweets with a photo of the mosque and wrote: “Welcome to Syracuse: Holy Trinity Church, beautiful church of German and Italian immigrants, is now a mosque.”
The tweets were among four that Long sent out Thursday as she spent the afternoon walking in the North Side neighborhood around the mosque. The neighborhood has a fast-growing population of international refugees.
Long told Syracuse.com in an interview Monday that she wanted to draw attention to what she heard from some residents about changes to their neighborhood since the church conversion began in 2014.
“People are so sad about that,” Long said. “I wanted to do some photographs and videos of people who were unhappy about it. I thought it was worth mentioning. As I traveled around that neighborhood, it was a sign of what liberal government does to a big city.”
Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said Long’s tweets were nothing more than bigoted and racist rants designed to prey on the fears of people. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Long’s opponent in the November election, declined to comment on her tweets.
Long said residents told her the neighborhood was better off until Holy Trinity was closed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse in 2010 due to declining attendance.
“The homes were well maintained and people looked out for each other,” Long said. “As I understand from people I talked to on the ground there, there’s prostitution, drugs and money laundering.”
Long said she had no independent proof that such crimes are on the rise in the neighborhood since the mosque opened. When asked if she believes there’s a direct link between the rising Muslim refugee population and crime, Long said, “Probably not.”
But she added that “the fact we have refugees who are coming in without work, many of whom are on perpetual public assistance” has led to a cycle of poverty that likely fuels crime.
“The cycle of poverty fuels the cycle of drugs, and cycle of gangs,” Long said.
The North Side neighborhood that once housed mostly German and Italian immigrants is now home to a new group of immigrants where 20 percent of families speak a language other than English at home, according to U.S. Census data. About 16 percent of the people in the neighborhood are foreign born.
Long said she wanted to draw attention to the refugees because immigration is an issue in her election against Schumer, who led an effort to pass a bipartisan immigration reform bill in the Senate.
“What I do know is that liberal Democrat policies in our big cities are not helping anybody, especially our big cities,” Long said. “I do know we are resettling refugees with federal dollars when we can’t afford to do it. We’ve got an incredible heroin problem, so why are we spending money on something we can’t afford?”
Syracuse’s mayor took exception to Long’s tweets, but said she’s not surprised.
“I think it’s exactly what has become of the Republican Party,” Miner said in an interview. “It’s xenophobic racism.” She added, “I would urge her to go back and reacquaint herself with the principles of American democracy.”
The mayor said her own family settled in the neighborhood around the former Holy Trinity Church, where she used to visit her grandmother on Beecher Street.
“My family grew up in that neighborhood, and my family worshipped at that church,” Miner said. “The whole experience of Syracuse has been that we are a city of immigrants, and our better angels have persevered, and we are a better society because of it.”
Miner said Long has nothing to back up her claims about increasing crime in the neighborhood since the mosque opened.
“She has no objective evidence,” Miner said. “She has nothing but a blatant appeal to racism and bigotry. It’s anti-American, it’s offensive, and the voter will send her that message in November.”
Long, 56, a lawyer from New York City, lost a previous U.S. Senate bid in 2012 to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who won by a landslide, 72 percent to 26 percent.
Long will appear on the Republican, Conservative and Reform Party lines in this November’s election against Schumer.