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Judge says city of Syracuse can't remove Columbus statue

The center of contentious controversy among Syracuse residents and officials–the city's statue of Christopher Columbus was the backdrop of two ceremonies and rallies on Monday.
Madison Ruffo
WRVO Public Media (file photo)
A NYS Supreme Court judge ruled that the city of Syracuse cannot remove the statue of Christopher Columbus

A State Supreme Court judge ruled Friday that the city of Syracuse does not have the authority to remove the statue of Christopher Columbus that has been at the center of controversy for years.

Mayor Ben Walsh announced in October 2020 that the city would remove the statue from Columbus Circle, and replace it with a heritage site that would honor Italian Americans as well as the Native American community. That decision came after years of protests by Native Americans and other groups who say Columbus enslaved and slaughtered Native Americans when he arrived in the Americas.

In May 2021, The Columbus Monument Corporation, a group of supporters of the monument, sued the city to prevent the statue's removal. It argued Walsh does not have the legal authority to remove the statue. Judge Gerard Neri agreed, saying the city "has no legal right to alter the piece of art known as the Christopher Columbus Monument or remove same or any part of it from its present place on St. Mary's Circle, otherwise known as Columbus Circle, in the city of Syracuse."

The judge also ruled that the city must "preserve and maintain" the statue for the rest of its useful life. The city argued that the statue has exceeded its useful life, which the judge disagreed with.

"We appreciate the Court's careful consideration of our petition requesting that this important public art be preserved," the Columbus Monument Corporation said in a statement. "The decision reflects the extent to which the court heard and analyzed the arguments of all parties."

Two groups that had fought for the statue's removal, Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation and Women of Italian and Syracuse Heritage in CNY (WISH CNY), said they were disappointed in the decision.

"We're confident this is a temporary setback,” Donna Inglima, a founding member of WISH CNY, said in a statement. “Mayor Walsh's decision to remove the statue is part of a national reckoning. The people of Syracuse, and other communities across the country no longer wish to use our public spaces to honor conquerors, enslavers and tyrants. Judge Neri's decision will delay this process, but it won't stop it.”

Walsh, in a statement, said the city will appeal the decision.

"The City of Syracuse will appeal the decision and looks forward to presenting its position to the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division,” Walsh said.

Jason has served as WRVO's news director in some capacity since August 2017. As news director, Jason produces hourly newscasts, and helps direct local news coverage and special programming. Before that, Jason hosted Morning Edition on WRVO from 2009-2019. Jason came to WRVO in January of 2008 as a producer/reporter. Before that, he spent two years as an anchor/reporter at WSYR Radio in Syracuse.