Italian-Americans file court petition to save Syracuse’s Columbus statue

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An Italian-American group filed a petition in court Sunday to thwart the City of Syracuse’s planned removal of its Christopher Columbus statue, claiming the move is illegal under local law.  

The petition — filed in Onondaga state Supreme Court by 29 petitioners including the Syracuse-based Columbus Monument Corporation, former Onondaga County Executive Nick Pirro against the City and Mayor Ben Walsh — seeks to prohibit the sculpture’s takedown and renovation plans for St. Mary’s Square, the area where it presently stands. 

“This petition seeks relief… to prohibit the City of Syracuse from altering or removing the Christopher Columbus Monument at Columbus Circle,” the filing reads.

“The petition also asks for judgment declaring the City without legal authority to alter or remove the Christopher Columbus Monument and that the threatened actions of the Mayor constitute a breach of Trust under the City Charter.

“The City and its residents (including the petitioners) will be irreparably harmed if the respondents are allowed to lay waste to the Monument in any way, now and in the future,” according to the filing.

The filing argues the removal would violate the city’s “duty” to protect and preserve the monument.

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh announced in October 2020 that the city would take down its Columbus monument and make other changes following a decision made by a special committee, as well as opposition by Native Americans and local progressives.

The announcement drew ire from Italian Americans, especially those in the area whose ancestors helped raise funds and erect the sculpture in 1934.

Walsh has said the city would need approval by both the Syracuse Landmark Preservation Board and the Syracuse Public Art Commission to remove the effigy, in addition to a review by the State Historic Park Office.

But the filing argues under city charter rules, Walsh does not have the authority to “alter or demolish or remove any part of the Monument or piece of public art (like the Monument) entrusted to the City.”

Pirro told The Post that city residents at the time — largely immigrants or their descendants — donated out of pocket to build the memorial in honor of their heritage. 

“We choose to preserve the art, history and heritage of the Columbus Monument in its present location. We prefer that St Mary’s Circle and adjacent parcels be a place where everyone’s story can be told, where our community’s ethnic heritage and history can be shared,” he said. 

Pirro explained that it’s the group’s last resort since the October decision. They filed a notice in the state’s Court of Claims and wrote a letter to Walsh back in March, but received no reply.

The group has also purchased and out up at least five billboards supporting the monument’s preservation on roadways surrounding the city.

Columbus Monument Corporation Secretary Robert Gardino said: “We ask the good people of Syracuse to tell Mayor Walsh this should be a celebration of historical diversity, and should not be an act of destruction, or be dismissive of the intentions of the Italian families that built the Monument, and their many contributions to our community.”

The action follows a similar controversy pitting Italian-Americans against the New York City Department of Education, after officials quietly removed Columbus Day — Oct. 11 — from next year’s calendar as a school holiday, instead replacing it with Indigenous People’s Day.

Outrage by Italian-American groups prompted the DOE and Mayor Bill de Blasio to amend the date, instead calling the day off “Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous People’s Day.”

Over the last several years, many Columbus statues have been removed — or forcibly toppled — and celebrations for the Spanish explorer have been renamed. 

A City of Syracuse spokesman was not available for immediate comment.

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