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Syracuse argues ruling on Columbus statue removal to appellate court

Ava Pukatch

An appellate court in Rochester heard arguments Monday about the statue of Christopher Columbus in downtown Syracuse. The city is appealing a decision made by a state supreme court last year which said the city did not have the authority to remove the statue.

Both the City of Syracuse and the Columbus Monument Corporation argued on finality.

Justice Stephen Lindley asked if it was fair to say Mayor Ben Walsh has made a final decision that the Columbus statue should come down.

"He's made a decision in his own mind, in his view, [the statue] should come down," Hon. Lindley said. "But your argument is that he alone — there's other administrative steps that have to be taken to fulfill his wish."

Attorney John Powers, representing the City of Syracuse, said while Walsh may have made clear his future intent for the statue, he's also acknowledged there is an administrative process that needs to be completed.

"There's literally no plan yet," Powers said. "The court does not know what it's ruling on. There is no plan in place. It hasn't been created yet. Once that plan is created, it goes to the Public Art Commission. After that, it goes to the City Planning Commission. After that, it goes undergoes super-review. After that, it's voted on in a public hearing for a certificate of appropriateness."

Powers argued the case has not reached a point in the process where it has found finality. When Attorney Anthony Pietrafesa, who represents the Columbus Monument Corporation, took the podium, Justice Erin Peradotto asked if he knew finality is required.

Pietrafesa said yes but cited a case in which the court of appeals said you take a pragmatic evaluation of whether the decision maker has come to a definitive position on an issue that causes a concrete injury.

"I think if you take a pragmatic view of the mayor's statements, what they said to the state in the termination agreement, which was designed basically to stop this very lawsuit, I think it's very clear that the city has spoken in very definite terms as to what they want to do with the monument," Pietrafesa said.

The justices will rule on the case in the coming weeks. If they rule with the City of Syracuse, the case will go back to the State Supreme Court.

Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.