The City of Syracuse plans to remove its Christopher Columbus statue and rename a surrounding plaza called Columbus Circle — leading to outrage by Italian-American groups.
Mayor Ben Walsh — an Independent — announced on Oct. 9 that the sculpture of the controversial explorer would be canned after opposition from Native Americans and progressives led a special committee to call for its removal.
“I understand this decision has caused pain for some in our Italian American community, and I am sorry for that, but I truly believe this will ultimately bring our community closer together,” Walsh said in making the announcement.
He added that he hopes “this decision will bring about healing for the Onondagas,” a local Native American tribe that called for the removal of the statue as a symbol of colonialism.
Italian Americans ripped the decision Monday during an annual wreath laying ceremony in front of the sculpture in observance of Columbus Day.
“I do feel hurt, not only personally but for the people that came before me. My parents, my grandparents. What they did here in Syracuse working in the factories, working as laborers to raise families,” lamented Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli (D-Syracuse) to the The Post via a phone interview following a speech at the ceremony.
“We’ve lost the understanding of what the older generations went through,” said Magnarelli.
The Columbus effigy will be taken down from the top of the monument, as well as the faces of four Native Americans and plaques surrounding the base of the statue depicting Columbus’ exploration into the New World, according to the Mayor’s office.
Walsh said in a missive Friday the site will be revamped in consultation with the Italian American community to continue to honor their heritage.
But Nick Pirro, former county executive and presently the vice president of the Columbus Monument Corp. which runs the annual Columbus Day celebration in Syracuse, told The Post they plan to explore legal action and has been in consultation with lawyers on how to proceed.
“We didn’t know until Friday what the mayor’s decision would be, we were surprised,” he said.
“It’s disrespectful to the Italian people of Syracuse and Onondaga County who went out with the blessing of the city, raised the money, worked hard to raise the money to pay for everything,” he added, noting the sculpture was erected in the 1930s and was made possible through local monetary contributions.
Pirro said he was a part of the action committee and offered several propositions to include other groups supporting the addition of Indigenous Peoples Day, but all were rejected.
The Onondaga Nation put out a statement over the summer saying they understood the need for the Italian American need to celebrate their history, but that Columbus was not the way to do it.
“Our own monuments, beautiful lakes, streams, rivers, and the earth itself, has suffered greatly as a direct result principle of the Doctrine of Discovery to which Columbus used to claim the lands in the name of the Spanish crown,” they said in a statement.
Betty Lyons, Onondaga and the head of the American Indian Law Alliance, also sat on the committee and told The Post in a statement: “There were long and sometimes contentious discussions and Mayor Walsh has made the correct decision and we appreciate it.”
The move still has to be approved by two additional bodies, the Syracuse Public Art Commission and the city’s Landmark Preservation Board, in addition to a review by the State Historic Park Office.
Several cities across the country have similarly removed statues of Columbus within the recent months and years — in July, Columbus, Ohio took down their namesake sculpture.
It’s also come as cities have begun to rename celebrations honoring indigenous people in lieu of Columbus’ memory and colonialism.