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De Blasio Statue Review Commission Will Host Public Forums On 'Symbols Of Hate'

Gaetano Russo's Christopher Columbus statue overlooks Columbus Circle
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Gaetano Russo's Christopher Columbus statue overlooks Columbus Circle Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images

Members of Mayor de Blasio's controversial statue commission are hoping the public can help them decide which of the city's monuments qualify as "symbols of hate." On Tuesday, following the first meeting of the 18-person committee, representatives of the commission announced they'd be hosting several public forums and circulating online surveys to better evaluate New Yorkers' feelings about controversial public art.

"Monuments are lasting embodiments of our city and nation’s people," committee co-chairs Tom Finkelpearl and Darren Walker said in a statement. "Our goal is to make our public landscape more reflective of that rich and complicated history. This thoughtful community conversation is our city’s first ever attempt at making these important strides possible."

Much of the conversation, thus far, has centered around the mayor's apparent ambivalence toward the statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle, which he initially said could fall under review for possible removal. Since then, de Blasio has faced a barrage of criticism from his fellow Italian-Americans, with some leaders calling him a "fake Italian" and others booing him at Monday's Columbus Day Parade.

On Monday, prior to the parade, de Blasio told reporters that the commission was "a way we move forward" and "the right thing to do." But he also added that the commission, which began its 90-day review following the Charlottesville violence in August, would not be finalizing its decisions anytime soon. Representatives from the mayor's office have not responded to several questions about which statues will be up for consideration.

"I want to emphasize, nothing is going to change in a short time," the mayor said. "I think some of the critics, possibly for their own purposes, have tried to gin this up. No one's moving any statues, no one's changing anything in the short term."

Committee members include Jon Meacham, the Pulitzer prize-winning biographer of Jefferson and Jackson; civil rights icon Harry Belafonte; and various artists and academics in fields ranging from history and antiquities to preservation and law.

In their statement on Tuesday, the commission's co-chairs also appeared to be taking the longview. "While recent events have placed an understandable urgency on our work, these are by no means new controversies," the statement read. "Public sculptures and monuments have sparked intense debates stretching back decades."

The survey and forum schedule are expected to be released in the coming days.

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