Mayor Bill de Blasio is walking back on a decision by his wife Chirlane McCray to exclude an Italian immigrant for a new program dubbed “She Built NYC,” an initiative that seeks to recognize historically overlooked women who helped build New York.
Originally, First Lady McCray had asked New Yorkers to nominate a new statue of an impactful woman.
By a large margin, New Yorkers selected St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, a religious leader who ventured overseas to help New York’s impoverished immigrant population. She had started 67 charities over her lifetime.
McCray rejected this top nominee in favor of a transgender woman who was an activist.
“It seems incongruous that after a public information campaign began for ‘She Built NYC’ to nominate women for statues that the woman who received the most votes, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, was not chosen as worthy to be honored for her contribution to our City,” said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.
Last Sunday, Bishop DiMarzio and his church helped organize a rally that gathered hundreds of angry Italian-American New Yorkers over what they viewed as a tone deaf cultural affront on the eve of Italian Heritage Month which is celebrated in October and minutes from Columbus Day.
The harshest critics saw McCray’s move to reject the religious leader as undemocratic and exclusionary, or biased against Italians.
On Friday, Italian actor Chazz Palminteri sparred with de Blasio on WNYC radio. Mayor de Blasio dodged questions about bias in the statue selection process and instead asked Palminteri to reject his accusation that McCray is racist against Italians.
“So I’m not going to believe the New York Post … the New York Post says you called my wife … a racist. I can’t believe you would have done that but I’m sure you will tell me the honest truth,” the mayor said to Palminteri.
The actor later apologized for those remarks but maintained that “at the very least” there was some “implicit bias” in the decision to exclude the Italian Saint.
Critics such as New York Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis didn’t mince words, however. In a scathing op-ed she wrote that “Common sense left City Hall on December 31, 2013, when Michael Bloomberg walked out of the Office of the Mayor for the last time.”
She added that Mayor de Blasio and his “far left cronies” are on a mission to purge New York City of its history.
“First it was Mayor de Blasio’s misguided plan to rid the city of a wide range of historical statues, ranging from Christopher Columbus to Teddy Roosevelt, because he and his far left cronies deemed they were offensive to people of color,” she wrote.
In 2018 Mayor de Blasio incited outrage among Italian Americans when he considered taking down a statue of Christopher Columbus.
“I think Columbus did some things that were deeply troubling,” de Blasio had said at the time. The New York City mayor ended up deciding against removing the statue.
Similarly, in a slight change of tune in response to outrage, de Blasio said on WNYC that the selection process is ongoing and that Mother Cabrini would be placed high on the list of future statue selections.