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Italians slam Alessandra Biaggi for boosting removal of NYC Columbus statue

New York Post
New York Post
 2022-04-28

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The head of New York’s Italian American groups slammed Democratic state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi for supporting the removal of the iconic Christopher Columbus statue in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle.

The Jim Owles Liberal LGBT Democratic Club asked Biaggi about the controversial Columbus monument as part of an endorsement questionnaire .

“What is your position on removing the Christopher Columbus statue in Columbus Circle and if so, what should replace it?” the Democratic club asked Biaggi, who is running for Congress .

“It should come down and I have advocated for moving Italian heritage celebration to better representations of our wonderful contributions to this country,” Biaggi answered.

Angelo Vivolo, president of the Columbus Heritage Coalition who also helps run the Columbus Day parade, said he was stunned that Biaggi turned her back on the famous Italian explorer, a symbol revered by generations of Italian American immigrants, including her grandfather, former Bronx Congressman Mario Biaggi.

“Senator, it is time to drop the hate and seek the truth. I hope you realize what it means to represent all the people respectfully. When you offend one culture, you offend all,” Vivolo said an “open letter” emailed to Italian-American groups.

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Biaggi claimed she has “advocated for moving Italian heritage celebration to better representations.”
Christopher Sadowski

Actor Chazz Palminteri , born and raised in The Bronx, also took issue with Biaggi abandoning Columbus.

“Columbus Day is a day of pride for all Italian Americans and the statue of Christoper Columbus will remain today, tomorrow, and forever,” the “Bronx Tale” playwright and “Bullets over Broadway” actor told The Post.

Meanwhile, Vivolo said Biaggi betrayed her grandfather, Mario Baggi.

“I was privileged to know your grandfather Mario. I knew him as a man with an enormous heart and a love for the working poor, a man for all people. He put his life on the line as a police officer and public servant. As a proud Italian American, he wore his heritage on his sleeve,” Violo said.

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Angelo Vivolo, president of the Columbus Heritage Coalition, criticized Biaggi’s comments in an open letter.
Stefan Jeremiah for New York Post

“Each year, in October, he marched up Fifth Avenue in the parade. When his legs failed, he mounted a float or vintage Alfa Romeo convertible. He rarely missed the annual benefit dinner that raised many millions to support students in financial need seeking a college education and a pathway out,” Vivolo said of Mario Biaggi, who was popular before getting convicted for corruption.

He said Mario Biaggi led tributes and a wreath-laying ceremony with the Knights of Columbus and Italian Americans at the base of Columbus statue.

“Earlier this month, on the campaign trail, you publicly called for the Columbus Memorial to be swept away in this tide of woke-ness with these four words: It should come down.”

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Vivolo mentioned that Biaggi’s grandfather, Bronx Rep. Mario Biaggi, used to march in the Columbus Day Parade in Manhattan every year.
AP Photo/Mario Suriani, File

“You are an inheritor of six generations of sacrifice, toil, and sweat of tens of millions of men and women. Their lives and achievements are embodied and expressed in this sublime memorial.  Yet you seek to tear communities apart and tear our community down,” Vivolo fumed.

Vivolo also said the “greatest navigator of recorded history” is not just a hero to the Italian-American community. Columbus sailed for Spain and Hispanics in the Americas also revere him.

“Latinos march up Fifth Avenue every year to celebrate the Spanish culture that followed Cristobal Colon to the Americas. Your actions are an offense to the Latino community and their many great and progressive contributions,” he said.

“Now you seek to follow in the footsteps of your grandfather, may he rest in peace, upon the back of your community.”

Columbus’s legacy has become part of the culture wars in recent years. Critics said the explorer should be cancelled from the public square because he slaughtered indigenous people during his conquests.

But Vivolo said Columbus must  be understood in the context of his times.

Former Mayor Bill de Blasio stirred up controversy and concerns that Columbus and other city statues would be removed  when he formed the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers in 2017 to review monuments across the five boroughs .

De Blasio instructed the 18-person panel to review “all symbols of hate on city property” in the wake of violence by white-supremacist groups in Charlottesville, Va. protesting the removal of a confederate statue.

In the end, his panel suggested just one statue be removed from Central Park — that of Dr. J. Marion Sims, a pioneering 19th-century gynecologist who experimented on enslaved black women.

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Italian American actor Chazz Palminteri said the statue of Columbus will “remain today, tomorrow, and forever” in response to Biaggi’s comments.
Photo by Mike Pont/Getty Images for Bronx Children's Museum

De Blasio opposed moving the Columbus monument, but said he wanted to place “new historical markers in or around Columbus Circle explaining the history of Columbus and of the monument itself.”

But the city Department of Education under de Blasio did rename the Columbus Day holiday to “Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous People’s Day.” The compromised dual holiday name only came following a backlash after the DOE initially scrapped the Columbus holiday altogether in favor of “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

During last year’s campaign for City Hall, Mayor Eric Adams said he opposed removing the Columbus statue during a forum hosted by the Jim Owles Democratic Club. A spokesman on Thursday said his position has not changed.

New York State listed the Columbus statue, which was erected in 1892, on the state historic register for landmark status in 2018, protecting it from removal.

The US Park Service followed the suit, designating the 76-foot Columbus statue a national landmark in 2018.

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Mayor Eric Adams said that he opposes removing the Columbus statue.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Biaggi responded by claiming there are many other ways to honor Italian Americans and she is proud of her heritage.

“I was very close to my grandfather, and I learned from him both great pride in our Italian American heritage, but also the importance of honesty, openness, inclusion and growth,” she said.

“We can actually better honor Italian Americans’ contributions by talking about people like Fiorello La Guardia and Angela Bambace and so many others who worked hard and built this country.

“It’s absurd to claim that the only way we can hold on to our heritage is by insisting on glorifying Christopher Columbus and continuing to insult Native Americans as cannibals and child murderers. You don’t own Italian American pride and you don’t get to decide how to honor it or my grandfather.”

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Biaggi suggested honoring other Italian Americans instead of Columbus, naming Fiorello La Guardia and Angela Bambace as examples.
AP Photo/Hans Pennink

Italian American activists said they have reason to remain vigilant — after seeing the statue of Thomas Jefferson removed from the City Council chamber because he was a slaveholder.

A bronze monument of former President Theodore Roosevelt on horseback and flanked by a Native American man and African man was also removed from the American Museum of Natural History because it was considered a symbol of colonialism and racism.

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