Plaque Sparks War of Words Over Civic Virtue Statue

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska on June 11, 2014 9:46am 

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 A new task force vows to fight for the return of the statue to Queens.
Civic Virtue Advocates Claim Statue's Inscription 'Rewrites History'
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QUEENS — A plaque with an inscription that takes aim at the city for not doing enough to care for the controversial Triumph of Civic Virtue statue — despite ponying up $100,000 for its restoration — has sparked outrage among advocates who are trying to bring the statue back to Queens.

The 22-ton statue, known as “Fat Boy” or “Rough Boy," has been cleaned and mounted on a marble base in the time since it was moved to Green-Wood Cemetery in December 2012 from its former longtime home at Union Turnpike and Queens Boulevard.

But members of the Civic Virtue Task Force, who are fighting to return the controversial statue of Hercules stomping on the sirens of Vice and Corruption — which some decry as sexist — say a plaque that was installed with the statue is factually inaccurate.

The sign installed near the statue says that the city “could not afford to conserve” the sculpture because it had no “funds to do so,” and “lacked the support of local officials.” The inscription was authored by Michele Bogart, a professor of art history at Stony Brook University.

In fact — as information obtained through a Freedom of Information Law Request revealed — the city's Department of Citywide Administrative Services paid nearly $50,000 for a custom-made cage used to transport the statue and an additional $50,000 to clean the artwork, according to a letter the Civic Virtue Task Force sent on June 5 to the Public Design Commission and to Green-Wood Cemetery.

The letter also stressed that a number of elected officials had supported the efforts to keep the statue in Queens, including Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, Councilman Peter Vallone and state Sen. Joseph Addabbo.

“Green-Wood Cemetery seems to create the image that everything was paid for by Green-Wood and nothing could be further from the truth,” said Richard Iritano, a community activist, who co-founded the task force in May. “This was all taxpayer funded — the repair and the relocation — and now we want it back. It’s only on temporary loan to Green-Wood Cemetery."

Green-Wood Cemetery paid for other transportation costs as well as for the design and construction of the statue’s new base, according to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. The cemetery will also pay for any future conservation and maintenance.

Colleen Roche, a spokeswoman for Green-Wood, said in an email that the cemetery “will consult with the Public Design Commission (PDC) regarding the language in the Civic Virtue historic display. We will be guided by the PDC on this matter.”

The Public Design Commission did not immediately respond to emails asking for comment.

Bogart, who according to the sign wrote the inscription in April 2013, said she was not aware of the documents regarding the city's agreements to pay to clean the statue.

At the time she wrote the inscription, she said, “it was pretty obvious to me that there was no money because the borough president [Helen Marshall] wasn’t going to allocate [funds] ... and she didn’t work with the community to try to help raise the money.”

Bogart, who said she has been involved in the issue for many years, also noted that political support for the statue "was inadequate," she told DNAinfo.

In May 2012, she wrote an article about politics involved in the controversy around the statue. She also testified at a Community Board 9 meeting asking the board to come up with the money to pay for the statue's restoration.

"It’s a historical artifact and an embodiment of the city’s history," she said. “I didn’t want to see it fall apart."

The statue, fashioned by Frederick MacMonnies in the 1920s, had been in Kew Gardens since 1941, after Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia moved it from City Hall Park.

Former Queens Borough President Helen Marshall had been pushing for a women’s memorial to replace the statue, and her successor, Melinda Katz supports the idea.

Michael Scholl, a spokesman for Katz, said that Queens borough president is planning to meet this month with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services to discuss plans for the future plaza dedicated to women.

But Mary Ann Carey, district manger of Community Board 9, said that she's received numerous phone calls from residents asking when the statue will be placed back in Queens.

"People miss it," she said.

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