Christopher Columbus Statue in New York City Could Be Considered for Removal

New York City Exteriors And Landmarks
The statue of Christopher Columbus by Gaetano Russo stands in Columbus Circle in New York.Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images file

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By Daniella Silva

As the violence in Charlottesville has reignited a national debate over monuments dedicated to Confederate-era and other controversial figures, New York City is conducting its own review over “symbols of hate” and possibly taking aim at Christopher Columbus.

New York City Mayor Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced a 90-day review by a commission of all "symbols of hate" on city property in the wake of violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that was protesting the planned removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

The move has opened questions about a variety of monuments in the city, including a 76-foot statue of Christopher Columbus in the heart of Manhattan’s Columbus Circle.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said on Monday she thought Columbus' history and treatment of indigenous people in Caribbean "has to be looked at."

The statue of Christopher Columbus by Gaetano Russo stands in Columbus Circle in New York.Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images file

"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.

"I know some people may take offense to that but for many of us that come from the Caribbean islands, we see him as a controversial figure," she added.

Her remarks came during a rally calling for the removal of another statue, that of J. Marion Sims, a surgeon heralded as some as father of modern gynecology — but whose breakthroughs came from experimenting on black slaves without anesthesia.

Related: Toppling of Confederate Statues Fuels Opposition to Other Markers

East Harlem residents and officials have advocated for the statue's removal in the past, but calls have been renewed following Charlottesville.

When asked if the Columbus statue should be reviewed, Blasio said in remarks Tuesday that "everyone should acknowledge these are complex issues and that’s why it was important to put together a commission."

But de Blasio also stressed that he was not "going to editorialize on each and every name, and each and every monument."

"I think the important thing to do is let that commission get going, let them take every nomination — if you will — from everyday New Yorkers, from elected officials, activists, look at the whole picture and come back with a plan," he said.

He added that the commission was tasked with recommending a "universal set of standards that can governor how we deal with monuments of concern on City-owned lands and their specific proposals about specific monuments. And then I’ll make decisions based from there."

A Republican challenger to de Blasio in the city's upcoming mayoral race, Nicole Malliotakis, said in remarks at a press conference Wednesday that the mayor had “opened a can of worms" with his announced review.

“That's the problem with this mayor, is hes quick to send off a press release and now you have even Christopher Columbus, the founder of our nation, is under attack," she said.

(Historians don't believe Columbus ever actually set foot on mainland North America)

De Blasio was also asked Tuesday if the tomb of Ulysses S. Grant in the city should also be considered for removal, over claims of anti-Semitism for an order he gave during the American Civil War expelling Jewish people from the area of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. Grant later apologized for the order.

The mayor said he was not "familiar with that history" but, "we don’t tolerate anti-Semitism in New York City."

Related: National Battle Over Confederate Monuments Renewed After Charlottesville Violence

"We have to look at each one of these cases. We’ll have a commission that does that," he added.

While Grant's memorial is in a city park, it is also a national monument and thus it was unclear what authority the city would have over changes to it.

Depending on the sites reviewed by the commission, de Blasio said he'll make the decision along with relevant agencies regarding statues under city control.

There is also a push by some to rename streets in the city honoring Confederate leaders, such as General Lee Avenue and Stonewall Jackson Drive in Brooklyn.