New York Mayor Could Remove Christopher Columbus Statue in Review of 'Symbols of Hate'

(Photo: Reuters; Creative Commons)New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (inset) and the statue of Italian-born explorer, Christopher Columbus, at Columbus Circle in Manhattan.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said a more than 100-year-old statue of Italian-born explorer Christopher Columbus by sculptor Gaetano Russo could be removed from the middle of Columbus Circle in Manhattan in a review of "symbols of hate."

The review comes after white nationalists and counter protesters fought in a deadly clash in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month over the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

The incident sparked a nationwide conversation on race as well as the removal of Confederate monuments in a number of cities including New York and Baltimore.

De Blasio, who is running for re-election in November, said during the Democratic mayoral debate on Wednesday night that the Columbus statue is one of the city's artifacts under review in the push to remove so-called symbols of hate.

"We have to look at everything here," de Blasio said, according to CBS News.

On Monday, de Blasio's Democratic ally and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, called for the removal of the statue which was gifted to the city by a group of Italian Americans in 1892.

"I will wait for the commission. As I said, Christopher Columbus is a controversial figure to many of us, particularly in the Caribbean, and I think that that has to be looked at. When you have to look at history we have to look at it thoroughly and clearly," she said.

While he is one of the first Europeans to reach the Americas, critics of the explorer cite his cruel treatment of native peoples as well as his role in the slave trade.

A group of Italian Americans, including elected officials and community groups, protested the removal of the Columbus statue with some echoing the sentiments of President Donald Trump that the removal of statues is "foolish."

"It's Columbus today and who knows who will be on this secret list tomorrow," Staten Island Councilman Joe Borelli told CBS on Thursday. "This is an unfortunate chapter in New York City's history."

New York State Sen. Diane Savino added, "Italians are everywhere in this state. That statue in Columbus Circle does not represent the explorer, it represents the experience of the Italian immigrant population."

"Twenty-seven million Italian Americans-strong, to this day, we still hold him in a place of honor," added Assemblyman Ron Castorina. "We will continue to do so and we will continue to fight to make sure that Columbus Circle remains Columbus Circle."

Mayor de Blasio, who's also Italian American, insists that while there's a lot to commend about the explorer, there's also a lot about Columbus to be ashamed of.

"I'm an Italian American, Italian Americans have [for] a long time been taught to be proud of Columbus, there's a lot to not be proud of as well," he said, according to CBS.

On Monday, Oct. 9, de Blasio is expected to march in the Columbus Day Parade, according to his office, and some of his critics are warning that he could suffer politically if he removes the statue of the explorer.

Joe Guagliardo, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations, warned: "I represent over 60 organizations, over a million members, and I can promise you this, at the parade this year we will remember who our friends are. And I promise you on Election Day, we will remember who is attacking Italian Americans."