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FLOWERS: Commonwealth Court Exonerates Christopher Columbus Statue

It’s still in the box, hidden from the triggered gaze. The only ones who would know what lies inside the wooden slabs painted in the colors of the Italian flag are indigenous to Philadelphia, pun intended. It is the statue of an Italian icon, Christopher Columbus, a piece of public art that sat undisturbed for over 40 years in its current location at the southern end of Broad Street on Marconi Plaza.

But a couple of years ago and in the wake of the George Floyd riots, a group of progressive activists in the city decided to wage war against the statue and its significance, arguing that Columbus was a genocidal colonizer and should not be given a place of honor in a newly “woke” metropolis such as Philadelphia.

And so, the city tried to pull down the statue, with the charge led by the current mayor and South Philly native, Jim Kenney. He said, “The Christopher Columbus statue has been a source of controversy.” He immediately jumped to accusing the Italian explorer of being a sadistic maniac, alleging that, “Columbus enslaved indigenous people and punished those who failed to meet his expected service by severing limbs, or in some cases, murder.”

There is very little evidence of this homicidal intent on the part of the sailor from Genoa. In fact, there is a larger body of scholarship that establishes exactly the opposite. My friend and fellow attorney noted Columbus scholar Robert Petrone, has recorded an entire series of lectures regarding the history of Columbus entitled “Christopher Columbus University” which can be accessed here:

But truth has never been a priority for the Kenney administration, which has taken its cue from the most radical and partisan advocates for all sorts of social justice initiatives like open borders, the elimination of cash bail, a criminal justice overhaul that would empty the jails, and attempts to hijack the fair and balanced teaching of history in public schools. To appease this diverse group of malcontents, Kenney ordered the removal of the statue which had been gifted to the people of Philadelphia in the mid-1800s.

Unfortunately for the mayor, he had no idea of the passion and the resolve of those like attorney George Bochetto, who agreed to oppose the statue’s removal in court. Bochetto, who I supported in his recent run for Senate, conducted most of his work pro bono because as he told me when I interviewed him on the Chris Stigall radio show last year, “Anybody that knows the history of Columbus Day knows that its origination was with the New Orleans lynching of nine Italian American immigrants in a savage, savage lynching…and it divided the country so deeply that Congress insisted on enacting Columbus Day in honor of Italian Americans, and Christopher Columbus, and the achievements that Italian Americans have brought to the community.” You can access that interview here:

From the beginning, the supporters of Columbus, among which I count myself, made it clear that we were not attached to a simple statue because it was a piece of significant public art. The meaning of the monument transcends the stone and the carving. It represents the struggle and the glory of a heritage that has contributed so much to this nation. The attacks on the statue and the figure of Columbus are justifiably seen as a direct attack on Italian Americans.

For that reason, and that reason alone, Bochetto and his legal team, supported by a large group of sympathizers in a galvanized Italian American community, fought against Mayor Kenney and his administration’s attempt to erase that history and replace it with something designed to please our critics. Columbus Day was removed from the city calendar and rebaptized as “Indigenous Person’s Day.” When a lower court held that it was improper for Kenney to try and remove the statue, his administration appealed the decision to the Commonwealth Court.

On Friday, that court ruled against the city and ordered it to remove the wooden box that had been spitefully erected two years ago to hide Columbus from public view. As of this writing, the box is still there. But barring any appeals to the state Supreme Court, which are possible given the predisposition of this mayor and his administration to fight tooth and nail against the Italians of this city, the statue of a man who played a key role in opening the door to the west, and to our destiny, will finally see the light of day.

It is shameful that it took this long for justice to be served, but the length of the journey only enhances the sweet taste of victory.


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Italian Americans Ask Montco to Restore Columbus Day Holiday

Monday is Columbus Day. But not in Montgomery County.

However, it was standing room only at the Montgomery County Commissioners meeting Thursday as about 40 people packed in to show their opposition to the county doing away with the Columbus Day holiday.

Mike Marino, former chairman of the Board of Commissioners and former district attorney, spoke on behalf of Italian American groups that included the Sons and Daughters of Italy, the Holy Savior Club, M.S.S. Lodge, the Mount Carmel Club, and the Knights of Columbus as well as a board member of Americans of Italian Heritage.

Marino said he does not oppose recognizing other groups and their heritage with holidays, but he asked the county to restore Columbus Day to recognize the contributions of Italian Americans.

“If this county truly believes in inclusivity, in equity, they’ll give us our day back,” said Marino. “It’s appropriate. It is fair. It is just. It is simply the right thing to do.”

Lawyer Al DeGennaro spoke on behalf of Americans of the Italian Heritage PAC. He asked the county commissioners to reconsider their decision to remove the holiday, noting that other area counties, including Delaware, Chester, and Berks celebrate Columbus Day.

And lawyer Francis Recchuiti spoke about the many contributions of Italian Americans to the county, the state, and the country. He also debunked claims that Columbus had slaves and was a murderer.

Republican minority Commissioner Joe Gale supported the effort, reminding the board he opposed the canceling of Columbus Day in 2021.

“Unfortunately, this is just one example of a cancel culture designed to erase our country’s history,” said Gale. “What you see here as the cancelation of Columbus Day as an official Montgomery County holiday, you see it in Philadelphia with the removal of the Frank Rizzo statue.”

Gale said the county replaced Columbus Day with Juneteenth, which celebrates the end of slavery.

Commission Chair Val Arkoosh sought to downplay the removal of Columbus Day from the county calendar as a day off for employees. She said it was to match most of the school district calendars and denied that it was in relation to adding Juneteenth as a holiday. And, she said, employees are free to use a personal day to celebrate Columbus Day if they wish.

Christine Flowers, a local pundit, and immigration lawyer said, “As someone who spent most of my formative years in Montgomery County, having attended Merion Mercy Academy, Bryn Mawr College, and Villanova Law School, and as a woman who is extremely proud of my Italian roots, I am appalled and disgusted with the soft bigotry shown by the leaders in Montco. I call it ‘soft’ bigotry, but it is actually the most insidious and noxious form of hatred towards an ethnic group that has given so much to this great country.

“As an immigration attorney who deals on a daily basis with members of many indigenous communities, I am also aware of the rich heritage reflected in their languages, cuisine, and customs. Knowing them personally, I would suspect that none would support the erasure of my heritage out of some misguided respect for their own. My outrage is personal, my sorrow is for those who live in Montgomery County, unfortunate enough to live in a place where bigotry is now as official as the holidays.”

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