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Elected officials call for removal of Christopher Columbus statue near Central Park

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City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is leading the charge for the removal of the monument to the contentious Italian explorer


City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has suggested the city remove the statue of Christopher Columbus near the southwest corner of Central Park, inciting a debate over the parameters of Mayor de Blasio’s 90-day initiative to review “symbols of hate” on city-owned properties.

At a Monday rally calling for the removal of a statue of J. Marion Sims, the surgeon who in the mid-1800s performed gynecological exams on enslaved women without using anesthesia, Mark-Viverito also called on the city to remove the statue of the “controversial” Italian explorer.

“I think that that has to be looked at and we have to look at history,” Mark-Viverito said during the rally, the Observer reports. “We have to look at it thoroughly. He is a controversial figure and I know that some may take offense to that but for many of us that come from the Caribbean islands, we see him as a controversial figure.”

While Columbus is credited with encouraging European exploration in the Americas, many now see his exploits in the Caribbean and beyond as devastating to the indigenous people there.

The mayor’s office is still working on defining guidelines for the review of “symbols of hate” on city-owned property. A spokesperson for the mayor’s office told the Observer that the Columbus statue “is obviously one that will get very immediate attention” due to the concerns raised around it.

Mark-Viverito is not the only elected official to speak out against the statue. Brooklyn City Council Member Jumaane Williams has also expressed interest in having the statue removed.

The monument was gifted to the city by Italian-American immigrants in 1892, DNAinfo notes.

The call for the removal of the statue is not ubiquitous. John Fratta, chair of the New York State Commission for Social Justice, promised to fight against its removal. “That will be a fight like never before seen. The Italian-American community will really mobilize and do anything possible to prevent that from happening,” the Post reports Fratta said on Tuesday. “It is a slap in the face to the Italian-American community and we are not going to tolerate it.”

Staten Island Assembly Member Ron Castorina also spoke against the removal of the statue, saying that a “revisionist history” is at play in Columbus’s historical narrative, DNAinfo reports.

“It’s quite difficult to adjudicate Christopher Columbus, the man who lived in the 1400s, and to use today's constructs for the purposes of adjudicating what type of man he was,” Castorina said in front of the statue on Tuesday. “Frankly, there’s quite a bit of revisionist history regarding the loss of life with respect to Native Americans and others.”

Update: Staten Island congressman Dan Donovan has proposed relocating the statue of Christopher Columbus to a federally controlled park on Staten Island, the Post reports. The congressman, whose district includes the country’s highest concentration of Italian-Americans, is advocating for the statue’s transfer to Great Kills Park, which is controlled by the National Park Service.

“If a radical group bent on sanitizing history doesn’t want the statue at Columbus Circle anymore, Staten Island will gladly accept it,” Donovan said.

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