‘Racist’ Snub of Mother Cabrini? Cuomo Needles de Blasio

If Mayor Bill de Blasio and the actor Chazz Palminteri got into a dispute, which side do you think Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo would be on?

A few hints.

Mr. Cuomo and Mr. de Blasio, both Democrats, are New York’s most famous frenemies, and the governor seldom bypasses a juicy opportunity to tweak the mayor.

The governor and Mr. Palminteri happen to be friends: The actor supported the governor’s 2018 re-election bid, holding a fund-raiser at a special performance of his book, film and play, “A Bronx Tale.” They are also big Billy Joel fans.

And the coup de grâce: The dispute was largely over whether the de Blasio administration blundered by bypassing Mother Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants and a paragon to many Italian-Americans, with a statue.

Mr. Cuomo provided the answer on Monday, convening reporters to a news conference outside the Columbus Day Parade route in Manhattan to announce that the state would commission a statue to honor Mother Cabrini.

“I want the Italian-American community to know and the Catholic community to know we heard you,” he said earlier on Monday on “Fox 5 Good Day New York.” “We understand the discontentment, and it will be remedied.”

The governor said he would appoint a commission comprising Italian-American leaders, including Angelo Vivolo, the board chairman of the Columbus Citizens Foundation, and Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn, to identify an artist and a location for the statue.

Last week, Mr. Palminteri accused Chirlane McCray, who heads the She Built NYC commission that oversaw the statue selection, of being “a racist” for not choosing Mother Cabrini among the women who will be honored with new statues — even though she drew the highest number of votes in a nonbinding poll.

That “racist” comment led to an unlikely live confrontation, aired on WNYC radio on Friday, between Mr. Palminteri and Ms. McCray’s husband, Mr. de Blasio.

“You just don’t call someone a racist because they started to try to address a historic wrong,” Mr. de Blasio said. “The effort she was part of created statues for white people, black people, Latino people, straight people, gay people, all five boroughs.”

“That’s not racist, so get it together. Let’s be real here,” he said over muffled protestations from Mr. Palminteri, who had called into Mr. de Blasio’s weekly interview on “The Brian Lehrer Show.”

The unexpected spat between Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Palminteri was the latest dust up in the effort to diversify the city’s statues, after the mayor vowed in 2017 to rid the city of “symbols of hate” amid a national debate about the appropriateness of statues of Confederate leaders.

Mr. de Blasio’s vow came after a deadly riot in Charlottesville, Va., as neo-Nazis and white supremacists protested against plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general.

A commission appointed by the mayor recommended moving a statue of J. Marion Sims in Central Park in Harlem. Dr. Sims developed important advances in gynecological surgeries in the 19th century by operating on black female slaves, sometimes without anesthesia. The commission recommended diversifying future statue choices. Only five out of New York City’s 150 statues of historical figures are women, according to She Built NYC.

Among the women chosen to diversify the city’s crop of statues were the transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, and Shirley Chisholm, who was elected in Brooklyn to serve as the first African-American congresswoman.

On Monday, Mr. de Blasio said the dispute over the Mother Cabrini statue was “very sad” and called it a “manufactured controversy” during an interview with Fox 5.

The selection of women to honor with statues represents “people of all backgrounds,” he said. “It was really about giving women representation who had been unrepresented for centuries in this city.”

His remarks reinforced his stance on Friday, when he talked about the diversity of women who have been chosen so far and chided Mr. Palminteri for criticizing his wife, noting that his children, Chiara and Dante, have names that honor his Italian heritage.

“I would have welcomed a call from you,” the mayor said then. “Pick up the God-forsaken phone and say: ‘Hey, a lot of us think this is a great idea. Can we make this happen?’ And I would say, ‘That’s a great idea, let’s get to work on it.’”

“But when people go running to the media and start calling racism and just create a conflict for conflict’s sake,” the mayor continued. “I would urge you to be a little more respectful.”

Mr. Palminteri wasn’t ready to quit. “If it was the other way around, you don’t think the African-American community would have jumped up and said something?” he said.

“Chazz, is Susan B. Anthony not a white person?” the mayor replied. “I don’t even get your reasoning here about race. It makes no sense.”

After a few minutes of intense back and forth, the show’s host, Brian Lehrer, asked Mr. Palminteri if he wanted to retract his statement about Ms. McCray.

“I would like you to tell your wife I apologize for using the word racism,” Mr. Palminteri said. “I did not call her racist but they asked me, does this sound like racism to you and I did say yes. As a man, I would not lie to you, absolutely.”

Ms. McCray later released a statement saying that the

“nomination process was never intended to be a popularity contest.”

“We look forward to the next round and making sure we recognize more important figures who have little or no public recognition of their contributions to the city,” she added. “There are far too many stories that have gone untold.”

She and the mayor agreed that Mother Cabrini would most likely be honored with a statue in the second round of choices — a hypothetical situation seemingly rendered moot by Mr. Cuomo’s declaration that the state would erect a Mother Cabrini statue.

“God bless him,” the mayor said on Monday, adding that he felt people were “playing a lot of games” about the statue selection.

“It’s not fair to people; it’s not fair to the memory of Mother Cabrini,” he said.


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