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Italian Americans Rally To Keep Christopher Columbus Statue In Columbus Circle

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A rally was held at City Hall Thursday in support of keeping the statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said the statue should be considered for removal as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio's review of what he called "symbols of hate" on city property.

As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer explained, the group vowed repercussions over Mayor de Blasio's decision to place city monuments under review.

"It's Columbus today and who knows who will be on this secret list tomorrow," Staten Island Councilmen Joe Borelli said Thursday. "This is an unfortunate chapter in New York City's history."

Borelli led the rally of elected officials and community groups, including the federation of Italian-American organizations.

"Italians are everywhere in this state," said New York State Sen. Diane Savino. "That statue in Columbus Circle does not represent the explorer, it represents the experience of the Italian immigrant population."

"Twenty-seven million Italian Americans-strong, to this day, we still hold him in a place of honor," said Assemblyman Ron Castorina. "We will continue to do so and we will continue to fight to make sure that Columbus Circle remains Columbus Circle."

Comedian Joe Piscopo also spoke at the event, saying "leave our statues alone."

"The one iconic symbol for Italian-Americans was Christopher Columbus. He's flawed, we're all flawed -- hey, I'm flawed. Does that mean I'm not gonna get a rest stop named after me on the Jersey Turnpike?" he said. "Stop the political correctness. The political correctness is killing us." 

Mayor de Blasio could find the welcome mat pulled out from under him if he marches in the Columbus Day parade, Kramer reported. Italian Americans are furious with him for not exempting the statue of Christopher Columbus from his review of city statues and monuments.

He was booed, and excoriated.

"Bill de Blasio, who has shamefully sidestepped this issue, the mayor of all people should be defending Columbus Circle, defending the contributions of the Italian American community," Eric Ulrich (R-Queens) said.

The mayor was also reminded that there could be a political price to being so PC. 

Joe Guagliardo, Chairman of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations had a stern warning.

"I represent over 60 organizations, over a million members, and I can promise you this, at the parade this year we will remember who our friends are, and I promise you on Election Day we will remember who is attacking Italian Americans," he said.

Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito first raised the issue of putting Columbus' head on the chopping block, but the mayor has refused to pardon him.

"I'm an Italian American, Italian Americans have a long time been taught to be proud of Columbus, there's a lot to not be proud of as well," he said.

With the controversy raging, a spokesman for de Blasio would only say it's "likely he march in the Columbus parade."

Viverito said that she had never marched.

"Because of my concern about the controversy behind the figure of Christopher Columbus. That's a personal decision," she said.

Viverito mentioned that she's part Italian, but also proudly Puerto Rican -- heritage which influences her view of Columbus.

"For many of us that come from the Caribbean islands, we see him as a controversial figure," she said.

Which some may find interesting, because as CBS2's Tony Aiello reported, last year the town of Arecibo, Puerto Rico put up the largest statue in the world -- it's Christopher Columbus, 298 feet tall.

When asked about the Puerto Rican statue of Columbus she jumped.

Aiello: "The largest."

Viverito: "I say it's wrong."

Aiello: "In the world."

Viverito: "I say it's wrong."

Aiello: "And it's of."

Viverito: "I say it's wrong."

Aiello: "They shouldn't have done that?"

Viverito: "No."

Aiello: "Why?"

Viverito: "I'll leave it there."

A spokesperson said Mark-Viverito also thinks that Grant's Tomb should be on the review list. Grant has been regarded by some as anti-Semitic.

The mayor has already ordered the removal of a granite marker honoring Henri Philippe Pétain on the Canyon of Heroes on Morris and Broadway in Manhattan. Pétain was convicted of treason in connection with helping the Nazis lead thousands of the Jewish faith to their deaths.

Leaders in the Italian American community fear Viverito will influence the monument review process.

Some New Yorkers have problems with the very idea of a monument review.

"They've been here for years and years, so why now. Doesn't make sense to me, why now," Grace Charles said.

"I think he should leave them alone. It's not up to him, it's up to us," Steve Dechler said.

"I disagree with him because it's part of history," Rocky said.

The controversy swelled beyond Columbus Circle, CBS2's Andrea Grymes reported. On Cristoforo Colombo Boulevard -- or 8th Avenue -- in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, she met longtime resident Teresa Maria Criscuola.

"I think all of the politicians, all of them, are sidetracked into this garbage," she said. "My interest is jobs and the economy. That's my number one interest."

"It's kindergarten baloney and a waste of time," she added. "It's disgraceful."

Others agreed the city should focus on more important issues.

"They should be looking into doing other things, looking at more of the problems we have," said. Frank Orfano. "Transportation, schools, stuff like that. Not statues."

"These stupid people with these statues? It's ridiculous," Nino LaRocca, of Maspeth, said. "We're the idiots that let the idiots get away with it."

"Who's next? Who they gonna pick on next? George Washington? Abraham Lincoln?" he added.

The mayor expects to name the commission next week.

He's hoping to avoid political blowback by having the commission wait until after the election to announce the statues and monuments on the endangered species list.

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