Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to be dogged by questions of where to draw the line when it comes to his new 90-day review of "hate symbols" in New York City. Speaking Tuesday, the mayor was at a loss when asked what would happen to public depictions of former U.S. President Ulysses S Grant and forgotten-by-all-but-the-nerdiest-local-historians New York Governor Horatio Seymour.
Grant's eligibility for hate symbol status stems primarily from General Order 11, a command he gave expelling all Jews from Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky in an attempt to stamp out an illegal cotton market run "mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders." A large statue of Grant on horseback has stood in Crown Heights, Brooklyn since 1896; Grant's body is interred at Grant’s Tomb, located in Riverside Park.
A portrait commemorating 19th Century New York Governor Horatio Seymour currently hangs inside City Hall. His offense, as the Post points out, traces back to 1868, when Seymour campaigned for president (against Grant, no less), running on the campaign slogan "This is a White Man's Country; Let White Men Rule."
When asked about both figures at an unrelated press conference Tuesday, the Mayor acknowledged that he hadn't considered whether the hate symbol review should include Grant and Seymour.
"This is complicated stuff. But you know it's a lot better to be talking about it and trying to work through it than ignoring it, because I think for a lot of people in this city and in this country, they feel that their history has been ignored or affronts to their history have been tolerated," de Blasio told reporters.
"We’re trying to unpack 400 years of American history here," the Mayor continued, according to the Daily News. When asked if the names of city buildings, such as public schools, might be up for consideration, de Blasio stressed that the hate symbol review will need to proceed in stages. In an email to Gothamist Tuesday, the Mayor's Deputy Press Secretary emphasized that the hate symbol review is only just getting started—its panel of relevant experts and community leaders will eventually develop "concrete guidelines for review and removal."
But multiple city and state officials are already working to stop the hate symbol review panel from even considering once specific statue: the figure of Christopher Columbus, which stands 70 feet above Columbus Circle. Responding to City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito's suggestion that Columbus, whom many see as a figure responsible for the enslavement and genocide of Native Americans, should be considered a hateful figure, Staten Island Council Member Joe Borelli wrote to both Mark-Viverito and de Blasio demanding that the criteria for removal be made public.
"I recognize, as I am sure you do, the tremendous can of worms that the city of New York has now opened," Borelli wrote. More criticisms pile on, including a tweet from Queens Council Member Eric Ulrich suggesting that the FDR Drive should be renamed on account of Roosevelt's internment of Japanese Americans in World War II.
Mark-Viverito doubled down on her critique of Columbus while speaking at a Harlem senior center Tuesday. "I know that some people may take offense to that. But for many of us who come from the Caribbean Islands, we see him as a controversial figure," she said, according to the Post. The Speaker's call for a review of the Columbus statue received additional support from Brooklyn Council Member Jumaane Williams Tuesday.
In response to the targeting of Columbus, State Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-LI) told the Post in a statement he would introduce a bill in Albany to block any attempt to remove the statue.