As a new City Hall plan to review and remove hate symbols in New York City continues to take shape, Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito have faced intense pushback from those looking to preserve the 70-foot statue of Christopher Columbus that towers above Columbus Circle. Now, de Blasio is floating a possible compromise: plaques.
At a press conference in Brooklyn on Monday, de Blasio told reporters the city might affix disclaimer-style plaques that "offer explanations of the historical figures they depict." These plaques would, in theory, allow certain controversial figures to remain in place with a new citation that foregrounds their potentially hateful or destructive deeds.
Speaking at a press conference Monday in Brooklyn, de Blasio acknowledged the concern, particularly among Italian-Americans, that the statue could get the axe. "There's more than one way to address this," the Mayor said, "I don't think anyone should leap to any conclusions. They should see how this commission does its work and what it presents." De Blasio also said that many of that statues reviewed by the panel will likely be left alone.
The possibility of Columbus getting official "hate symbol" status was raised by Mark-Viverito during a speech last week in Central Park, in which she framed the Italian explorer/colonist as a symbol of Native American oppression. Council Member Jumaane Williams also tweeted his support for the removal of the Columbus statue.
Among the early critics of Mark-Viverito and Williams was Republican Staten Island Council Member Joe Borelli. In a letter sent to the Mayor and Speaker last week, Borelli admonished them for opening a "tremendous can of worms" with the hate symbol review, and demanded that the criteria used to determine what is, and isn't, a hate symbol be made public. Following the Mayor's comments Monday, however, Borelli struck a more accepting tone.
“Placing [Christopher Columbus] in context would be a reasonable solution. But nobody jumped the gun,” he told the Post. “When Columbus was mentioned, the mayor could have downplayed it right then, and the speaker could have not made the case for removal.”