New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's wife is being accused of “anti-Catholic bias” after ignoring the public’s top choice for her women’s statue program — Mother Frances Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants.
Last year, New York City first lady Chirlane McCray asked New Yorkers to submit the names of influential women they would like to see honored with a statue, garnering over 1,800 responses with some 320 women nominated, the New York Post reported.
According to voters, the top pick was Mother Cabrini, the first U.S. citizen to be named a saint by the Catholic Church. Mother Cabrini garnered a total 219 nominations, while urban activist Jane Jacobs, who was also not selected, received the second-highest number of nominations with 93.
However, McCray and ex-Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who together made the final decision, ignored the pick in favor of more women of color and an activist drag queen.
The individuals chosen included: jazz legend Billie Holliday; Helen Rodriguez Trias, a Latina and desegregation activist; LGBT advocate Sylvia Rivera, who was born Jose; Shirley Chisholm, America’s first black congresswoman; Katherine Walker, who saved at least 50 victims of shipwrecks and boat accidents as keeper of the Robbins Reef Lighthouse; and Marsha P. Johnson, a transgender activist involved in the Stonewall uprising.
The failure to honor Mother Cabrini despite her popularity drew the ire of the Catholic community, which announced it has already raised $17,000 for a Mother Cabrini statue and plans to move forward regardless of the city’s decision.
“Mother Cabrini recently received the most votes in the ‘She Built NYC’ competition, which aims to build more statues honoring women,” the diocese wrote in a press release. “But despite earning this top ranking, a public statue honoring her life is not being planned.”
“Mother Frances Cabrini was certainly one of the women who built New York City. Her work to establish orphanages, schools and a hospital, along with her commitment to immigrants, absolutely should be recognized,” Nicholas DiMarzio, bishop of Brooklyn, said in a statement.
“The failure to honor Mother Cabrini with a public statue would be an affront to many New Yorkers, especially Italian-Americans who see her as most deserving,” he said.
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis also criticized the move, calling it "outrageous," according to SILive.com.
“Given that this month is Italian-American Heritage Month, and Mother Cabrini is an icon for Italian-Americans and Catholics throughout our city, it is important we raise awareness over this issue,” she said.
On Sunday, more than 1,000 people attended a mass at St. Stephens Church in honor of Mother Cabrini, the New York Post reported.
Bishop DiMarzio, who presided over the mass, said: “More than 50 years ago I fell in love with a woman. Her name was Frances Xavier Cabrini. She probably said, ‘I don’t need a statue. I’m a saint in Heaven.’ But we need a statue to recognize what she did here.”
In response to the backlash, the city's Cultural Affairs commissioner, Tom Finkelpearl, defended the decision, saying it "was never meant to be a vote. It was meant to look for good ideas."
Through a spokeswoman, McCray insisted that she is not “anti-Catholic.”
“To claim that the first lady is anti-Catholic is a falsehood and outrageous,” said spokeswoman Jaclyn Rothenberg.
“She was invited to speak at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and has worked with Catholic Charities on a variety of mental health issues. Every one of the monuments for She Built go through the same process and the decision-making on this one was no different.”
However, Harriet Senie, who served on the panel that weighed the poll results and recommended to McCray that the city honor groups over individuals, called the entire process a “charade.”
“The committee came up with five suggestions, all of them groups of women with the express intention of changing the existing paradigm of memorials. We were very clear and unanimous about that,” she told the art-news site Hyperallergic. “That really was an outrage.”
Also denied were poll leaders Emily Warren Roebling, who led the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge, and Manhattan Music School founder Janet Schenck.