On Friday morning, actor Chazz Palminteri called into the Brian Lehrer show to voice his opinion about the She Built NYC program aimed to bring more statues of women to New York City. (Currently there are five, in comparison to nearly 150 statues of men.) The call took place during the "Ask the Mayor" segment, and Palminteri fired off his views directly at Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose wife Chirlane McCray launched the statue effort back in 2018.

Earlier this week, Palminteri called McCray "racist" because the first installment of She Built NYC statues won't include Mother Frances Cabrini, a nun who established dozens of charitable organizations across New York City in the 19th century and who was canonized in 1950 as the patron saint of immigrants. (The five new statues will be of Billie Holiday, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías, Katherine Walker, and Shirley Chisholm, as well as a Central Park statue from the Monumental Women group featuring Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth.)

When She Built NYC solicited suggestions of women to honor, Cabrini received 219 nominations—Jane Jacobs and Shirley Chisholm got 93 and 91.

"Now I saw the other names that were being brought up and very accomplished women, and they deserve a statue, absolutely. I agree, Shirley Chisholm, all those people, no question. Billie Holiday, a great artist," Palminteri told Mayor de Blasio. "But Mr. Mayor, how could we just disregard Mother Cabrini and say, okay, she’s out and these other[s] are in?"

"First of all it wasn’t a vote," de Blasio responded. "It was a request for nominations. There were hundreds of women nominated to my understanding. It was not an online vote and whoever got the most votes win, there weren’t even that many votes honestly."

De Blasio then confronted the actor with the accusation of racism: "The New York Post says you called my wife, who is a tremendous public servant, who loves people of all backgrounds, who named her children Chiara and Dante and honors their Italian heritage, that you called her a racist."

Palminteri replied, "I will tell you the honest truth, I was asked a question, 'Do you think that is racism?' And I did say the word 'Yes.' If anything, Mr. Mayor, it’s an implicit bias at the least! I mean at the least sir!"

"You just don’t call someone a racist," de Blasio shot back. "Because they started trying to address a historic wrong. The effort she was a part of created statues for White people, Black people, Latino people, straight people, gay people, all five boroughs. That’s not racist, so get it together. Let’s be real here, you have someone you think should be honored as a tremendous figure, Mother Cabrini is going to be talked about in this next round. There’s a great argument for her. I honor what she did for this city. But you don’t call someone a racist who isn’t a racist."

Palminteri eventually apologized, after Lehrer gave him the opportunity to do so, though he added one more plea, "All I’m saying is, Mr. Mayor, and for all the proud Italians in New York and all over the world, and you are one of them, there is a woman who has done more work she’s the patron saint of immigrants, see what you can do."

De Blasio noted another round of statues is coming "real soon," and that "Mother Cabrini is right at the top of the list for consideration."

There has been some criticism around the She Built NYC decision-making process, earlier this year Hyperallergic reported that some members of the city advisory committee said their recommendation to honor groups "rather than individuals" was ignored. The site reported that "ultimately, First Lady of New York City Chirlaine McCray and Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen were the two people who decided on erecting the first She Built NYC statue for Shirley Chisholm."

After the interview, Chazz was back on Twitter, lobbying for Mother Cabrini.

It's worth noting, there is an entire shrine to Mother Cabrini (located at 701 Fort Washington Ave in Manhattan), which features most of her body (though her head is in Rome, and one arm is in Chicago).

Tod Seelie / Gothamist

You can listen to the segment below, it starts at the 13:45-mark.