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Italian-American Organizations File Lawsuit Against Philadelphia, Mayor Kenney Over Removal Of Christopher Columbus, Frank Rizzo Statues And Columbus Day

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A lawsuit has been filed against the City of Philadelphia and Mayor Jim Kenney on behalf of several local and national Italian-American organizations. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, is related to several incidents that took place in the city, including the toppling of the Rizzo statue, the boxing of the Christopher Columbus statue, the canceling of Columbus Day as a city holiday and the replacing of it with Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs say their lawsuit is intended to be a test case, a check and balance on the power of the mayor and his executive orders.

Columbus Day changed to Indigenous People's Day; the attempted removal of the explorer's South Philly statue; the takedown of Frank Rizzo.

They're all points made in a freshly filed federal lawsuit claiming Kenney exceeded his authority in issuing executive orders.

"It just so happens that these days we have a mayor who's completely lost his way and is bent on humiliating and disgracing the Italian-American culture of Philadelphia, and we're not going to put up with it," attorney George Bochetto said.

The suit ties some 50 Italian-American organizations together in alleging the Philadelphia mayor's executive orders regarding the Columbus Day name change discriminated against Italian-Americans while exalting another ethnic group.

The same is claimed about the Rizzo statue removal and Columbus statue attempted removal, both actions currently subject to unrelated litigation.

Councilman Mark Squilla, who represents much of South Philadelphia, is a plaintiff in the case.

"This can happen in any administration. If another administration decides to do something unilaterally without following the process. Hopefully, this lawsuit will stop that from happening," Squilla said.

The suit claims the mayor exerted unilateral action only against two iconic Italian-American statues prominently displayed for decades.

Rizzo's bronze likeness was removed in June after it became one of several focal points of protests over police brutality.

Attempts to bring down Columbus drew crowds of protesters.

"It's absolutely a power check, it's an accountability check, it's a check to hold Mayor Kenny to the same constitutional standard that every other mayor in the country is being held to," Bochetto said.

In a statement to CBS3, the mayor wrote: "This lawsuit is a patently meritless political ploy and will waste precious resources at a time when we are trying to both deal with a devastating pandemic and work to build a safer and more equitable city for all residents. Given this is pending litigation, I am not able to comment further about it at this time."

At a minimum, the suit seeks a voiding of the Columbus Day name change.

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