NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A rally was held in Manhattan Sunday morning, led by local lawmakers who demand the statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle stays put.
The statue, which stands 75 feet high and rally organizers say was a gift to the city of New York from Italian-American immigrants, has come under fire lately from groups who highlight Columbus’ mistreatment of Native Americans and Caribbeans.
Sunday’s rally started out as planned, then three protesters — two dressed in faux chains, with the third wearing a Klan outfit — tried to disrupt the proceedings.
“It makes no sense that he should be a landmark,” one protester said. “It’s got to go.”
Police escorted theprotesters away and the ceremony continued, 1010 WINS’ Roger Stern reported.
“We do not celebrate him because of what he did negatively,” Angelo Vivolo from the Columbus Citizen’s Foundation told 1010 WINS’ Roger Stern. “We celebrate all the positive things that he did.”
As CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported, the controversy was also top of mind for many at the Bronx Columbus Day Parade, which stepped off late Sunday morning at Morris Park Avenue and White Plains Road.
“Learn from history, but don’t destroy history!” said Marisa Sputtoni of Morris Park, the Bronx.
Every year, Sputtoni waves her flag at Columbus Circle, her heart swelling with Italian-American pride at the Bronx Columbus Day Parade. She said in the past she had zero anger — but not this time.
She is steamed that the Columbus statue in Columbus Circle is in any amount of jeopardy.
“Bill de Blasio should leave our statues alone and leave our history alone!” she said.
Mayor de Blasio was not invited to the Bronx parade at all.
“Why would you want to invite him to a parade where he basically fought against our community?” said John Fratta of the State Commission for Social Justice. “It makes no sense.”
Fratta continued, “That statue is going to stay if we have to chain ourselves to it.”
The controversy over Monday’s Columbus Day Parade in New York City is building, as is the debate over which historical figures should be honored in the United States.
There’s talk of changing the name of Columbus Circle and taking down the statue. Those who back the change speak of his mistreatment of Native Americans.
Vivolo says it’s not that simple.
“Columbus came here in 1492, and they want to judge his actions with the standards of 2017,” he previously told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell.
“That statue has to remain at Columbus Circle,” added state Sen. Jeff Klein (D-The Bronx).
The state and city politicians launched a petition drive to save the statue, after many of them snubbed the mayor’s own heritage event.
Late Sunday afternoon, Mayor’s office spokesman Eric Phillips said there is no plan in place to take down the statue.
“There’s no plan to touch the Columbus statue,” Phillips said in the statement. “The Mayor looks forward to marching in this year’s parade, and to honoring the important contributions Italians have made to our city and nation. Our annual Italian heritage event at Gracie Mansion drew hundreds more this year than it did last year, a clear testament to this mayor’s strong relationship with his roots and our city’s Italian community.”
Phillips also said the Grace Mansion gathering for Columbus Day was better attended than last year.
Mayor de Blasio has named a Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers to offer opinions on issues surrounding public art, monuments and markers on city-owned property. The group will help decide the fate of the statue in Columbus Circle.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he doesn’t think the statue should come down.
“The statue is really not about Columbus; it’s about the Italian-American heritage, and I think that deserves to be celebrated,” Cuomo told reporters at the West Indian Day Parade. “I believe the Italian-American heritage should be celebrated as part of the ongoing New York celebration of diversity.”
Also hoping the statue stays where it is are Italian-Americans who work for city schools – who also marched in the Bronx parade.
“It’s something we feel children should know and learn about, so we are not for taking down the statue,” said Rosemary Mercora of the Forum of Italian-American Educators.
The governor added: “Nobody is saying that Christopher Columbus did not do bad acts to indigenous people, and I believe the indigenous people, by the way, should be celebrated. But if you want to take that kind of retrospective lens, where do you stop? Thomas Jefferson, George Washington — you know, who is without sin?”
De Blasio has not called for the outright removal of the statue, but is leaving it up to the commission to review the appropriateness of all statues and monuments on city property.
Vivolo says Italian-Americans are proud of their heritage and respect all ethnicities.
The parade will march down Fifth Avenue on Monday. For more information, CLICK HERE.