Statues were torn down across the country to angry mobs during the Antifa/BLM riots of 2020, and also have been removed by municipalities. Statues of Christopher Columbus have been a particular focus.
In January 2021, a group in Syracuse, NY, served notice of its intention to challenge plans by the City of Syracuse to remove a Columbus statue, as Syracuse.com reported:
A group of people who oppose removing the statue of Christopher Columbus from downtown have filed legal papers announcing their intention to sue to block the city’s plans.
The “notice of intent” was filed with the city on Friday, according to Nicholas Pirro, a former Onondaga County Executive who’s also part of the Columbus Monument Corporation that’s fighting the change at Columbus Circle.
“We’re prepared to take legal action,” Pirro said Wednesday.
The five-page document isn’t a lawsuit. Rather, it puts the city on notice that legal action could be coming.
The group believes the mayor doesn’t have the authority to move the statue, Pirro said. Instead, the city should seek approval from local and state historic preservation boards and the city’s arts commission on the future of the space, he said.
“It’s a mistake,” Pirro said of Walsh’s decision to remove the statue, which was erected in 1934. “We’re really asking the mayor to reconsider what his decision was. I think it was made for political reasons at the time.”
The lawsuit was just filed. You can read the Petition (with exhibits), which provides in part:
1. This petition seeks relief under CPLR Article 78 to prohibit the City of Syracuse from altering or removing the Christopher Columbus Monument at Columbus Circle. The petition also asks for judgment declaring the City without legal authority to alter or remove the Christopher Columbus Monument and that the threatened actions of the Mayor constitute a breach of Trust under the City Charter. To that end, the petitioners seek relief under Article 78 directing the City to maintain the Monument in its current form.
2. By way of context, the petitioners seek to stop the Mayor of Syracuse, and the City government, from altering, desecrating or destroying the Christopher Columbus Monument in St. Mary’s Circle in its present form (“Monument” ). The Monument, entrusted to the City in 1934 by thousands of City residents of Italian descent in gratitude for America, sits within a preservation district that includes the Onondaga County Courthouse, the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the First Baptist Church, the historic Carnegie Library, the historic Wesleyan Methodist Church and the Powelson property. Besides its significance to community members, it is a magnificent piece of art reflecting the collaboration between noted Florentine sculptor Renzo Baldi (who crafted the statuary) and nationally regarded Syracuse architect Dwight James Baum. (who designed the obelisk and fountain) 1 The Monument is protected by various state, local and federal preservation laws.
3. The respondent Walsh, in disregard of all this, unilaterally decreed (i.e., without legislative direction by the Common Council) and threatened, on October 9, 2020, three days before the public’s 88th Columbus Day celebration held within the Circle, to personally see the Monument be removed from its home and moved to a not -identified “private location.” He continues that threat today.
4. Petitioners object to the Mayor’s intentions. Moreover, petitioners believe the Mayor is without power:
a. under the City Charter and
b. under the assumed duty the City owes the State and its citizens, nor
c. under the requirements of the Syracuse public art ordinance and the Syracuse public art plan, nor
d. under the requirements of the Landmark Preservation statutes,
to effect his baleful intentions.
Baleful intentions! Now the gloves are off. (Yes, I had to look that up.)
The suit seeks an injunction:
5. The City and its residents (including the petitioners) will be irreparably harmed if the respondents are allowed to lay waste to the Monument in any way, now and in the future.
The attorney for the group gave a statement to Syracuse.com:
“The city has a legal duty to preserve the Monument, not destroy it,” said Anthony Pietrafesa, an attorney for the Columbus Monument Corporation. “This action reminds the mayor that political expediency and personal antipathies are not supported by the preservation laws or city charter.”
…. He’s said that he and other Italian Americans on the committee argued for keeping the statue and adding a heritage site and educational component about what it means to the local Italian community. That plan, he said, was rejected.
The statue was erected in 1934, paid for mostly by Italian-American immigrants and given to the city. Many Italian-Americans at the time had been subjected to persecution and the statue was a point of pride among the community.
This is a good example of how legal strategies fighting back against then destruction of historical monuments can vary from location to location. In Syracuse, there appears to be some legal covenants restricting the city’s ability to erase this monument.DONATE
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