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Philadelphia mayor 'disappointed' court ordered removal of box covering Christopher Columbus statue

A judge said if the city disagrees with the statue’s “message” it can add a plaque that is “more in line with the message the City wishes to convey."
Mayor Jim Kenney
Mayor Jim Kenney in Philadelphia on Nov. 7.Ryan Collerd / AFP via Getty Images

Philadelphia's mayor said he is "disappointed" that a court ordered the city to remove a plywood box covering a statue of Christopher Columbus.

A spokesperson for Jim Kenney said the office believes the statue should be removed from Marconi Plaza, noting that it "has been a source of controversy" in the city. It is covered by a large box that a district city council member requested be painted green, white and red to mirror the Italian flag.

"We are continuing to review the Court’s latest ruling and are working to comply with the Court’s orders, including unboxing," the mayor's office said in a statement Saturday.

Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt handed down her ruling on Friday, telling the city that if it disagrees with the statue's "message" it can add a plaque that is "more in line with the message the City wishes to convey," court documents state.

A pedestrian walks by an encased statue of Christopher Columbus at Marconi Plaza
A pedestrian walks by an encased statue of Christopher Columbus at Marconi Plaza in Philadelphia on Oct. 11, 2021.Matt Rourke / AP file

"More to the point, the City accepted the donation of the Columbus statue in 1876. It has a fiduciary duty to preserve that statue, which it designated an historic object in 2017," the judge wrote. "The Columbus statue is not City property as is, for example, a City snowblower. Whether the City agrees with the 'message' is simply irrelevant to its fiduciary duty to preserve and maintain public works of art that have been designated historic objects."

The mayor's office said while it respects Leavitt's decision, it will "continue to explore our options for a way forward that allows Philadelphians to celebrate their heritage and culture while respecting the histories and circumstances of everyone’s different backgrounds."

The statue was presented to the city by the Italian-American community to mark the nation’s centennial. It has been at the center of a dispute between the city and the group Friends of Marconi Plaza, with supporters saying they considered Columbus as a symbol of the Italian heritage in Philadelphia.

In a 2020 letter, the mayor said that while supporters of Columbus revered him as an explorer he had a "much more infamous" history and enslaved Indigenous people and imposed punishments such as severing limbs or murder.

"Surely the totality of this history must be accounted for when considering whether to erect or maintain a monument to this person," the mayor wrote in the letter, according to the court documents.

That same year, protests about racial injustice erupted across the nation. In Philadelphia, some of the protests focused on the removal of the statue. But last year, a judge said the city had failed to provide evidence that the figure's removal was necessary.