NYC Council advances bid that could yank monuments honoring Washington, Jefferson, Columbus

New York’s City Council — which just passed a budget that’s already been deemed a flop — is now spending some of its time advancing a plan that could kill off monuments honoring figures such as George Washington.

The Democratic-led council’s Cultural Affairs Committee is set to hold a public hearing Tuesday on a proposal to yank artworks from city property dedicated to historical figures such as George Washington, Peter Stuyvesant and Christopher Columbus because of their controversial pasts.

But critics immediately branded the effort as cancel culture run amok.

“Columbus was?a migrant!’’?fumed Angelo Vivolo, president of the Columbus Heritage Coalition.

Vivolo vowed to fight any attempt to remove monuments of the famous Italian explorer from city parkland — including the most recognizable statue at Columbus Circle.

Among the council’s usual major responsibilities is passing a budget.

The lawmakers approved a spending plan at the end of June, but it’s already a disaster — with Mayor Eric Adams ordering city agency cuts because it’s potentially out of balance?to the tune of billions of dollars thanks to the migrant crisis, critics note.

A general view of the Christopher Columbus statue at Columbus Circle in New York, NY
A general view of the Christopher Columbus statue at Columbus Circle in New York, NY.
Christopher Sadowski

The 51-member council also oversees the operation of city agencies and passing of local regulations and laws that span everything from outdoor dining to zoning matters.

But now, a main focus is cancelling historical figures.

And it’s not an idle threat.

A statue of Thomas Jefferson, the drafter of the Declaration of Independence and America’s third president, was removed from City Hall because he was a slaveholder.    

Peter Stuyvesant Statue, New York City.
Peter Stuyvesant Statue in New York City.
Universal Images Group via Getty

The Cultural Affairs Committee’s upcoming hearing involves legislation that would require the city’s Public Design Commission to publish a plan to remove works of art on Big Apple property “that depict a person who owned enslaved persons or directly benefited economically from slavery, or who participated in systemic crimes against indigenous peoples or other crimes against humanity.”

If the commission determines that a statue or monument honors a person who committed crimes against humanity but votes not to remove the artwork, it would require the city to install an “explanatory plaque” about the misdeeds of the historical figure, according to the bill authored by Brooklyn Council Sany Nurse and co-sponsored by 16 other lawmakers.

“This bill would also require the Department of Transportation to consult with the Department of Education to install plaques on sidewalks or other public space adjacent to schools that are named after a person that fits the criteria,” Nurse said in a memo explaining the bill.

Statue of George Washington in Union Square Park.
Statue of George Washington in Union Square Park.
Angel Chevrestt

There are more than a half-dozen monuments on city property honoring slave-holder Washington, also America’s first president and revolutionary hero — including in Washington Square Park and Union Square Park. 

Peter Stuyvesant, a Dutch governor, early New York settler and a slaveholder, has a statue in Stuyvesant Park, and prestigious Stuyvesant High School is named after him.

Other famous slaveholders who have schools in the city named after them include John Jay (CUNY’s John Jay College) and Dewitt Clinton (Dewitt Clinton HS).

The statue of Thomas Jefferson was taken out of City Hall today, and will be moved to the New York Historical Society.
The statue of Thomas Jefferson was taken out of City Hall in November of 2021, and moved to the New York Historical Society.
Gregory P. Mango

Columbus, while lauded for discovering the new world, has been targeted for elimination from the public square for brutalizing native populations during his travels, and monuments of him have been taken down elsewhere.

“This is little more than an attempt by the radical left to rewrite our nation’s history,” said Joann Ariola (R-Queens). “These men all had an enormous impact on this country, and these statues commemorating their achievements have been in place for decades.

“The radical left has been trying to reframe our nation as one born from evil, and it is time we put our foot down and say enough is enough,” she said. “The Founding Fathers and the others who worked so hard to establish this great country should be celebrated, not eliminated from memory.”

An aerial view of Columbus Circle in New York, NY.
While others have taken down statues of Columbus across the country, others believe this is the work of radical groups trying to rewrite history.
Robert Miller

Council Republican Minority Leader Joe Borelli, who represents parts of Staten Island with the largest Italian-American and pro-Columbus population, said his left-wing Democratic colleagues are turning the council into a punchline.

“How original. The Council is good for a statue-banning committee every year or so, second only to our annual ‘cars are bad’ hearing,” Borelli said.

“By now, they get the same attention as the World Series of obscure Canadian winter sports on ESPN Ocho. Even the MyPillow guy wouldn’t buy ads during the broadcast,” he quipped.

Former city Mayor de Blasio also created a panel while in office to look at monuments honoring famous figures to see if any should be removed for a history of inhumane actions.

Photos of the Christopher Columbus statue in Columbus circle, looking north from 8th avenue.
Council Republican Minority Leader Joe Borelli said Democrats are turning the council into a punchline.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

But the 18-member panel of experts whose commissioning led to protests ended up focusing on just four public monuments — with controversial 1800s gynecologist Dr. J. Marion Sims being the lone figure to get the boot.

“I thought this was behind us,” Vivolo said. “This woke group wants to cancel our culture.

“I’m here for the fight. The Italian-American community will come out strongly against this move to ban Columbus, a symbol of Italian-American accomplishment. But it’s not just Columbus. You’re going against Washington, Jefferson. You’re going against the people who contributed greatly to America,” he said.

Nurse, the sponsor of the bill, was not immediately available for comment.

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