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Fury grows over Empire State Building lighting controversy

In the eyes of some, the Empire State Building isn’t standing so tall.

A growing number of furious officials and Catholics are asking why Communist China and Mariah Carey are worth being honored in lights by the city’s signature skyscraper but the late Mother Theresa’s 100th birthday isn’t.

“We are not only upset but outraged,” said Jeff Field, a spokesman for the Catholic League, a religious advocacy group that applied to have the building shine white and blue in honor of her religious order on Aug 26. “It’s an iconic building in New York, and an iconic building for the whole world.”

Council Speaker Christine Quinn has pressured the building’s owner, Anthony Malkin, to reconsider, and officials are expected to introduce a resolution Wednesday urging the Empire State Building Lighting Partners to change their mind.

“I’m somewhat baffled that the answer has been no,” said Quinn, who said she’s “cautiously optimistic” that the owners will recapitulate. 

The private building allows anyone to apply to light up its top 30 stories for free. The three-page application states that management has “its own policies” for choosing candidates, but doesn’t state what those are.

Events honored by the landmark have grown increasingly broad. No longer are the lightings just reserved for holidays, sports and causes — even the DVD release of “The Simpsons Movie” was commemorated by the building.

 “I can see no rationale for some of [the occasions],” said Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who has spoken privately to the building’s owner since the Catholic League’s application was rejected last month.

The building’s choices have previously sparked controversy, with managers rejecting petitions for six years to turn it purple in honor of Gay Pride. They reversed course in 1990.

Building managers did not return a call for comment. The response letter sent to the Catholic League gave no reason for the rejection, but the building managers appear to be concerned that honoring Mother Teresa would “open the door to too many religious requests,” Vallone said.

The Catholic League has collected 40,000 signatures in support of their cause, including letters from as far away as India, Field said. The group plans to protest outside the building on Mother Teresa’s birthday.

“They light the building for others, why not her?” asked Rafael Garcia, 34, of Sunnyside.
(Katherine Lieb contributed to this story)


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