Italian American Group Holds Annual Ceremony After Mayor Announces Removal of Statue Columbus Statue Debate in CNY

The annual ceremony holds more importance to the Italian American this year.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — Nearly 200 people were in attendance at the Columbus Monument Corporation’s annual wreath laying ceremony, despite New York State COVID-19 guidelines. Members of Syracuse’s Italian American community were seen together shaking hands, standing close, and not all donning masks. 

The annual ceremony dates back 44 years, and the coronavirus pandemic was not going to stop members of the community from honoring this tradition. Vice President of the Columbus Monument Corporation, Nick Pirro, said this year was especially about honoring the history of the monument.


Statue in Columbus Circle with Men and masks
Masks were required at the event to abide by the New York State social distancing guidelines. However, not all in attendance were wearing masks.
© 2020 Julia Kelly

“It has quite a lot of history, but the fact is now history means nothing to a lot of people,” Pirro said. “We’re very disappointed in the mayor’s decision.”

Mayor Ben Walsh announced Friday his plans to remove the statue in Columbus Circle. While the plan was supported by the Native American community, it was staunchly opposed by some Italian Americans. 

Bob Gardino, secretary of the Columbus Monument Corporation, said the timing was the cruelest part of Walsh’s decision. 

“You couldn’t ask for a crueler act,” Gardino said. “And then three days -three days before our major wreath laying ceremony – the mayor says, ‘We’re going to decapitate that monument.'”

Several elected officials in attendance promoted the idea of unity amongst the Syracuse community. Congressman John Katko said the event was about pride in one’s heritage, and the community has to focus on what unites us. 

“We can learn greatly from each other by engaging in productive conversations,” said Katko.

“We can learn greatly from each other by engaging in productive conversations.”

Syracuse is not the first city to debate the removal of Columbus statues and they will likely not be the last. Several cities have seen statues damaged or removed, as protestors have directed their frustration on monuments they consider to be symbols of racism.


People gathering in front of Columbus statue
Italian-Americans gather at what may be the last wreath laying ceremony with a Columbus Statue in Columbus Circle. The ceremony has been a tradition for 44 years. The statue was paid for by the Italian-American community in Syracuse.
© 2020 Julia Kelly

Some Cities Where Columbus Statues Have Been Damaged/Removed

  • Chicago, Illinois; Grant Park and Arrigo Park (removed)
  • Boston, Massachusetts (damaged)
  • St. Paul, Minnesota (damaged)
  • Richmond, Virginia (damaged)
  • Baltimore, Maryland (damaged)

After Mayor Ben Walsh’s decision last week to remove the statue, it was defaced with the word “murderer.” 

Walsh has not determined where the statue will be placed or when it will be moved. He said when it was moved, it would be to a private location. 

The Columbus Monument Corporation will be taking legal action and hopes Walsh will reverse his decision. They have retained one lawyer and plan to continue building a team of Syracuse lawyers who know the community.

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