Court hearing held over Syracuse’s Columbus statue

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SYRACUSE, NY (WRVO) – Both sides involved in the debate over the statue of Christopher Columbus in downtown Syracuse have had their day in court. The ongoing legal dispute is delaying any action on removing the statue and creating a new park in downtown.

The Columbus Monument Corporation brought legal action against Mayor Ben Walsh and the city of Syracuse following a decision in 2020 to remove the controversial statue and in its place create a park celebrating all heritages. The petition was filed last May, and both sides argued in court Thursday before state Supreme Court Judge Gerard Neri.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media (File Photo)

The Columbus Monument Corporation contends that Walsh doesn’t have the legal authority to remove the statue, and needed legislative approval. The city disagrees, with lawyers saying it has the right to decide what symbols are displayed on city property.

If there’s one thing that’s not debatable, it’s that the court case has delayed any progress on the entire project, according to Walsh.

“The litigation has absolutely complicated matters, slowed things down, and I think kind of dragged out the division in the community and the hurt,” Walsh said Thursday. “But that is their legal right.”

Walsh says at this point, the formal process in moving the project along is at a standstill He says the city is able to continue its community engagement process.

“The community engagement process is something we were engaged in long before we started down this specific path of relocating and preserving the statue, and it’s something we are continuing right now,” Walsh said.

In October of 2020, Walsh announced plans for the city to remove the statue and create a heritage site, in the meantime creating a task force to work on relocating the statue. The statue of the controversial explorer was built in 1934, paid for mostly by Italian-American immigrants. It became controversial in recent years, as Columbus’s role in the slave trade and Native American genocide has been reassessed.