By Mark Hallum
City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) introduced a bill on the steps of City Hall this week to end Mayor Bill de Blasio’s quest to evaluate whether the Christopher Columbus statue should be removed from Manhattan’s Columbus Circle among other monuments deemed offensive.
Ulrich, the only Republican elected official in Queens, said his bipartisan bill would require a majority vote in the City Council before a statue can be removed from city property and could circumvent action taken from the recently established Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers.
“This bill would block de Blasio and his hand-picked cronies from deciding the fate of any statue of City property. The mayor, of all people, should be defending Columbus Circle. Instead, he has appointed his friends to a commission that would decide the fate of city monuments without any public input,” Ulrich said. “I am absolutely appalled that we have to stand on the steps of City Hall and demand respect from the government. For so many New Yorkers, the Christopher Columbus statue serves as a symbol of the many profound contributions of Italians to American history. We live in a democracy, and it is a disgrace that I need to introduce legislation to restore transparency.”
De Blasio announced his effort to take action against statues and monuments representative of oppression and other negative events in history in September as the national controversy relating to Confederate monuments reached new heights.
“There’s an important conversation taking place right now about history and representation in public art, monuments and markers. This diverse group of experts will be creating a thoughtful set of guidelines that acknowledge the complexities of history and the values that matter to us as New Yorkers. The commission will also make specific recommendations for a select few monuments and markers that have prompted understandably passionate public discourse,” de Blasio said as he announced the Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers. “I’m confident that this process will produce a conversation capable of examining our public art through the accurate, contextual historical lens that it deserves.”
Ulrich was joined by two other city councilmen from Staten Island who are in favor of not having decisions about statues being solely in the hands of a commission appointed by the mayor.
“No matter what side of the issue you fall on, most New Yorkers would agree that decisions about what should or should not be displayed on public property, such as a statue or a monument, should be made out in the open, after a fully transparent, deliberative process,” Councilman and Minority Leader Steven Matteo (R-Staten Island) said. “That is what we do here in the City Council on a regular basis as duly elected representatives of the people of this city. The legislation Councilman Ulrich is introducing codifies that very simple, but very critical democratic ideal.”
Councilman Joe Borelli (R-Staten Island) said the mayor’s commission should not be trusted since those on the advisory board are appointed by the mayor himself instead of placing the decisions involving public interest in the hands of elected officials.
“I am proud to support my colleague Eric Ulrich’s legislation, which will ensure that determinations regarding what is and is not art are not made unilaterally or by a board of the mayor’s crony-appointees but are instead at least vetted by the public’s direct representatives in the City Council,” Borelli said. “We live in tense, divisive times and this city cannot afford to allow tiny groups of chronic hyper-activists to tear down anything they don’t agree with and compromise the ideals of openness and tolerance that made our city the world’s beacon of creativity and cosmopolitanism in the first place.”
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall