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De Blasio backs panel to look at controversial NYC statues

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is seen here

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is seen here on July 24, 2017. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday detailed his plans to form a panel tasked with exploring New York City’s statues and monuments amid growing calls to remove tributes to controversial historical figures following the deadly violence earlier this month in Charlottesville, Virginia.

De Blasio first announced plans to form a special panel last week in a Twitter post, but on Tuesday, faced with a growing list of polarizing monuments that local lawmakers and activists argue should be stripped from public view, the mayor expanded on his expectations for the panel. He said the yet-to-be named panel will be tasked with creating “a universal set of standards that can govern how we deal with monuments of concern on city owned lands.”

“We may end up doing this in stages because it is big and complex stuff . . . we’re trying to unpack 400 years of American history here,” de Blasio said at an unrelated news conference in Manhattan.

What started out as calls to remove Confederate statues and memorials from city streets iafter the deadly Charlottesville protests two weeks ago that centered on the removal of a Confederate general’s statue, has led to calls to eliminate tributes to other controversial figures including Christopher Columbus.

On Monday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito suggested de Blasio’s panel explore the possibility of getting rid of the statue that towers over Columbus Circle in midtown Manhattan.

Mark-Viverito made the suggestion at a news conference in East Harlem where she was joined by other council members and local activists who gathered to call for the removal of a statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims, who has been criticized for conducting medical experiments on slaves without anesthesia,

On Tuesday, New York City Councilman Mark Levin, called on the City’s Public Design Commission to weigh removal of a portrait of former New York Gov. Horatio Seymour, which currently hangs inside City Hall.

Levin, in a letter to the commission obtained by Politico New York, notes that Seymour was opposed to the post Civil War Reconstruction efforts, and ran for U.S. president in 1868 on the Democratic Party ticket, using a slogan that read “This is a White Man’s Country; Let White Men Rule.”

“I believe that some other portrait . . . of a figure with a more constructive legacy to our city and country, would be more appropriate,” Levin wrote.

Asked to weigh in on the latest suggestions, de Blasio said he would defer to the panel of experts he would impanel in the coming days. De Blasio said the panel would make recommendations, and he would have the final say.

“I think the events in Charlottesville [and] other events have really put to the fore a desire in this city and this country to finally make sense of our past and decide what we want to honor going forward,” de Blasio said.

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