NEW YORK CITY — Mayor Bill de Blasio isn’t ruling out the possibility of removing city tributes to Christopher Columbus — but told those upset by the idea they shouldn’t “pre-judge” a process for reviewing problematic public displays slated to begin within days.
Italian-American leaders and residents have slammed the mayor in recent days over the possibility that the prominent monument to the explorer in Columbus Circle may be taken down or changed as part of a citywide review of public plaques, statues and artwork amid a national uproar over tributes to controversial historic figures.
Many Italian-Americans say the Columbus statue — which was created by an Italian-born sculptor and funded by an Italian-language newspaper in 1892 on the 400th anniversary of Columbus landing in the Americas — is a point of pride for ancestors of immigrants who contributed to the culture of New York and the country.
On Monday, de Blasio, who speaks Italian and is the grandson of Italian immigrants, said he personally understands “why people are so concerned.”
“When my grandparents came here over 100 years ago, Italians suffered a tremendous amount of discrimination in this country and that went on for quite a while. Things have gotten better, but there are still a lot of horrible stereotypes of Italians that are portrayed every day in our media,” he said.
For many Italian-Americans, Columbus provides a positive image because “we’re all taught that Columbus was a source of pride because of his achievements,” de Blasio said at an unrelated bill-signing ceremony at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn.
However, he said the statue will be among those reviewed by a yet-to-be-formed commission that will examine all monuments on city-owned land and come up with “one, single standard” for determining whether plaques or statues need to be removed, changed or stay the same. The commission will be chosen within days, he noted.
“To folks who are concerned, I would say: Don’t pre-judge. We haven’t even made the commission,” he said.
Italian-Americans leaders have already rallied at City Hall and at the base of the statue itself to push back on the possibility. Staten Island Assemblyman Ron Castorina was among those protesting the idea, saying at a rally last week that attributing to the explorer atrocities inflicted on Native Americans represents “revisionist history."
“What it suggests is the memory of the Italian-Americans that contributed to building this city, the very buildings that we engage in commerce in, that government sits in,” he said. “Those Italian immigrants built this city, and that statue is a gift from them to the city.”