Mayor Jim Kenney previously once signed an executive order to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day
A state court ruling will allow a plywood box to remain – for the time being – on a statue of Christopher Columbus that the city is trying to remove from a South Philadelphia park since the explorer became the focus last year amid protests.
The Commonwealth Court’s decision late Saturday overturned a Common Pleas Court judge’s decision to allow the immediate removal of the box covering the statue at Marconi Plaza.
City Representative Kevin Lessard said Saturday night that removing the cover during the holiday weekend would “put a serious threat to public safety.” He had earlier said that officials would stop any attempt to remove the cover before a state court hearing.
Common Please Court Judge Paula Patrick delivered a ruling Friday in response to a request from Friends of Marconi Plaza. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration immediately filed notice that it would appeal — and said it would not remove the box in the meantime.
Attorney Jorge Bochetto, representing supporters of the 144-year-old statue, vowed it would remain visible as long as Sunday’s parade ends in the plaza.
“If the city doesn’t take it down, we’ll take it down for them,” he said.
Kenny’s spokesman, Kevin Lessard, said the statue should be boxed “in the best interest and public safety of all Philadelphians” and that any destruction of public property would be a crime.
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In Philadelphia, a city with a deep Italian heritage, supporters say they see Columbus as a symbol of that heritage. Kenny said Columbus was revered for centuries as an explorer, but it had a “much more infamous” history, enslaved indigenous people and inflicted punishments such as cutting off limbs or even death.
Kenny previously signed an executive order renaming the city’s annual Columbus Day holiday to Indigenous People’s Day. Monday will be the city’s first holiday under the new name.
After the unrest following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd last year, Kenny characterized the statue’s removal as a matter of public safety. However, Patrick wrote that the city failed to provide evidence that the statue’s removal was necessary to protect the public, calling the confrontation “isolated civil unrest”.
The judge ruled in August that the statue could remain in the plaza, calling the decision to remove it “shocking” and unsupported by law and based on insufficient evidence. The ruling reversed a decision by the city’s licensing board, which upheld a July 2020 decision by the city’s historic commission to remove the statue.
Meanwhile, the 106-foot-tall Christopher Columbus monument at Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River will be allowed to remain with the coverings removed for the foreseeable future as part of a settlement of the lawsuit announced last month, the paper reported.
The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, a non-profit that manages the park, and the America 500 Anniversary Corporation, which raised funds to donate the memorial in 1992, said panels placed around the base of the monument after the unrest should be used for disposal. part will be removed.
The covering included chalkboards “to allow the public to express themselves in times of civil unrest,” said Joe Forkin, president of the Waterfront Corporation. He said officials would remove them “and continue our contractual obligation to maintain the monument” but remained committed to allowing public access and the expression of different perspectives. He said that another public participation campaign would start soon.
The work is “a reconstructed obelisk”, designed by Robert Venturi, topped by a weather vane representing the colors of Italy, the country of the explorer’s birth, and Spain, the country to which he sailed. According to the non-profit group’s website, it was intended to represent “the role played by all immigrants in shaping Philadelphia and the United States”.