Slowed by legal challenge, Syracuse statue survives second Columbus Day since mayor’s decision to take it down

Local News

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — More than a year since Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh decided on his plan to take down the statue of Christopher Columbus in Downtown Syracuse and rename the circle “Heritage Park,” the statue still stands and the debate over what should happen is getting more tense.

Ever since Cecilia Caruso moved to Syracuse from Italy 60 years ago, she’s celebrated Columbus Day.

“He discovered America. We all live here. We made a good life over here. That’s all I’ve got to say,” Caruso said. 

Historians don’t give Christopher Columbus the same credit anymore, instead claiming his impact is based on introducing European culture to the American continents, resulting in exploration, trade and eventually colonization and the founding of new countries.

“Now, everything is changing but I still believe he discovered America. I believe in that. I will believe it until I die,” Caruso said.

Others had different views on Columbus. 

“It’s offensive for the fact that he brought all these other people and killed the native people,” said Michelle George, a member of the Onondaga Nation.

The debate was on display at Monday’s annual wreath-laying ceremony, after George, a member of the Onondaga Nation, stood in the way. 

She stood still with her flag, trying to stop the wreath procession around the statue.

A woman, defending Columbus, said to the protester: “You’re disrupting. You’re disrupting. It’s 600 years. Get over it. You lost. Move on. Move on.” A man trying to help the protester got into an argument with a Columbus defender and was ordered by police to cross the street.

The incident was obvious on one end of the park, but people on the other side didn’t even know it happened.

The city’s plan for the Columbus statue calls for the statue to come down, but the concrete obelisk will stay. What isn’t decided yet is where the statue goes after it comes down and what happens to Columbus Circle once it’s renamed Heritage Park.

George said of the statue: “It’d be better off in a museum. Our children don’t have to grow up with that. It’s been 500 years, I think it should come down.”

Caruso on the other hand, disagrees. 

“I don’t want the statue to come down. That’s why I’m over here today. I looked for someone to take me here today. I don’t want the statue to go down,” Caruso said.

Mayor Ben Walsh did not attend the Columbus Day event and was not available for an interview.

In a statement, the mayor wrote:

“Syracuse is poised to create a space at Columbus Circle that honors our Italian American community and is welcoming and safe to all in our community. I thank the diverse group of stakeholders who are supporting this effort through the Heritage Park Advisory Commission and the Italian American Task Force. On this holiday weekend, I offer my deepest respect to our Italian American neighbors and my sincere support to the many in our community for whom the statue creates pain and sorrow. I’m firmly committed to proceeding on a path that is respectful to all and leads to healing in our community. Achieving this is consistent with our vision to make Syracuse a growing city that embraces diversity and creates opportunity for all.”

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh

The plan to remove the statue is held up by a lawsuit over if the city controls the property. The next court date is later in October but the decision isn’t expected before the end of the year.

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