NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The long debate about controversial monuments and statues in the city is finally over.
CBS2 has learned that Mayor Bill de Blasio has made the final call about which monuments will stay and which ones will go – and not everyone is going to be happy about it. CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported exclusively on the decisions Thursday.
Christopher Columbus certainly got the lion’s share of attention from New Yorkers debating what kind of monuments are appropriate in what some call this age of political correctness.
Now, Mayor de Blasio has personally decided the fate of four memorials. For the revelation you’ve likely been waiting for, Columbus will stay – with several caveats.
“This is a great day for Italian-Americans,” said John Calvelli, who served on the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers.
Calvelli was a member of the commission appointed by de Blasio to evaluate city statues and monuments, and recommend what should happen to them. He argued in favor of keeping the explorer in Columbus Circle.
“By eliminating the Columbus statue, you’re erasing our history – and that was unacceptable to me,” Calvelli said.
But bowing to public outrage about how Columbus treated Native Americans, the mayor ordered the creation of new historical markers around the statue “explaining the history of Columbus.”
“We’re happy that the commission has decided to keep the statue up, but we’re not happy about putting any plaques or anything around the statue,” said Angelo Vivolo of the Columbus Citizens Foundation. “People have the opportunity to go online and find out whatever they want to find out.”
De Blasio also added a curveball to the Columbus decision – decreeing that the city will commission a new monument to recognize the contributions of Indigenous peoples.
A spokesman said it would probably be near Columbus Circle in Central Park.
Many like that idea.
“I’m all for it,” one man said.
“That would be a good thing, because they have been, you know, disregarded,” a woman added.
“I think that’s great,” another man added.
Meanwhile, one woman named Adrienne said keeping the Columbus statue in place is “horrible.”
“I feel like compromising is lessening the blow that the statue causes a lot of people,” she told 1010 WINS’ Andrew Falzon.
The mayor also decided to move the statue of Dr. Marion Sims from Central Park to Greenwood Cemetery, where he was buried. Sims was criticized for using slaves to conduct medical experiments.
De Blasio also cast a tiebreaker vote after the commission found itself deadlocked five to five about the statue of Theodore Roosevelt in front of the American Museum of Natural History. The mayor decided the statue will stay where it is.
The Roosevelt statue was recently defaced because Roosevelt is flanked by an African-American and a Native American.
Most controversial was the decision not to remove the Canyon of Heroes plaque dedicated to Henri Philippe Pétain, a World War I hero who was later considered a Nazi collaborator.
State Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) demanded that the mayor reconsider.
“Why doesn’t this city get it? Get rid of this completely,” Hikind said. “Why are we playing games with this? Where’s the sensitivity? I thought we were progressive. Why not fight for the right thing and rip the damn thing out?”
“Oh boy,” added one woman named Aviva. “That’s a little tough. My grandparents are Holocaust survivors.
Commission members first recommended keeping Pétain, even though the mayor said it would be the first to go, because there are 206 plaques in the canyon of heroes and they felt the choice was to keep them all or remove them all.
Another Nazi collaborator, Pierre Laval, is also recognized there.