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Lawsuit says city of Syracuse doesn't have legal right to remove Columbus statue

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News (file photo)

The future of the Columbus statue in downtown Syracuse is now in the courts. The Columbus Monument Corporation has filed a lawsuit that contends Mayor Ben Walsh doesn’t have the legal authority to order the statue taken down.  

The move comes days after Walsh formed a new advisory group to figure out how to create a new heritage park and education site at the current site of the statue.

Walsh made the decision to take the controversial statue down last fall, after a number of protests and long-standing concerns that the towering statue of Columbus over the disembodied heads of Native Americans is offensive.  

Walsh said the idea of the 29 members of the Heritage Park Advisory Commission is to replace a polarizing statue with a park.

"To create a more inclusive space, where everyone can feel welcome, where we can tell a broader story about the history of our community,” Walsh said.

He expects the commission to figure out where to relocate the statue and what to do with the park within the next year.

“We intend to have an alternative site for relocation of statue by this summer,” he said. “The next step will be to finalize the design a plan for that space. We expect that will be in place by the end of this year. The actual construction of the changes we expect to happen in 2022.”

Standing in the city’s way is the Columbus Monument Corporation, which filed the petition last weekend in state Supreme Court. Former Onondaga County Executive Nick Pirro is one of 29 people listed in the lawsuit.

"He can have all the committees he wants,” Pirro said of Walsh. “The question is whether the city and himself as mayor has the legal authority to do what he did. And we don’t think he does."

Pirro also said the Italian American community has been working with the city’s process, and have agreed there should be some kind of recognition of other cultures in a heritage park.

“We have offered alternatives, he has accepted nothing,” Pirro said. “For some reason, probably political, he has made a decision he wants the statue down."

Walsh, who’s running for his second term as mayor, denies there’s any political connection to his decisions.

"I want to be clear. This entire process has nothing to do with the election or politics,” Walsh said. “It’s about honoring and respecting everyone in our community."

The city will respond to the lawsuit in court according to a statement from the city’s Corporation Counsel Kristen Smith. 

“The City has and will follow the process set forth in local and state law regarding the relocation and preservation of the statue,” Smith said. “As we do that, we will focus on creating unity.”