LIGHT­FOOT DE­FENDS STATUE-SNATCH­ING

Mayor says last week’s ‘tem­po­rary’ re­moval of pair of Colum­bus mon­u­ments in mid­dle of the night came about af­ter in­tel­li­gence raised pub­lic safety fears

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY FRAN SPIELMAN, CITY HALL RE­PORTER fspiel­man@sun­times.com | @fspiel­man

Mayor Lori Light­foot said Mon­day she or­dered two stat­ues of Christo­pher Colum­bus “tem­po­rar­ily” re­moved in the mid­dle of the night af­ter re­ceiv­ing “in­tel­li­gence that gave us great con­cern” that some­thing bad was about to hap­pen.

The mayor re­fused to elab­o­rate on the threat or the source of the in­tel­li­gence that led her to be­lieve Chicago was about to see a re­peat of the ugly Grant Park con­fronta­tion be­tween pro­test­ers and po­lice that, she claimed, had been “hi­jacked” by a small group of “vig­i­lantes who came for a fight.”

But Light­foot made it clear she con­sid­ered the warn­ing se­ri­ous enough to war­rant im­me­di­ate ac­tion in the mid­dle of the night.

“I wanted to make sure we did it as quickly as pos­si­ble. We re­ceived some in­for­ma­tion that day [Thurs­day] that raised some very se­ri­ous pub­lic safety con­cerns. I didn’t want to wait,” the mayor said.

Light­foot ar­gued there is no com­par­i­son to the ac­tion she took and Mayor Richard M. Da­ley’s mid­night de­struc­tion of Meigs Field on Northerly Is­land.

Da­ley con­sulted vir­tu­ally no one and sent in a fleet of bull­doz­ers to carve gi­ant X’s in the lake­front air­port’s only run­way to re­al­ize his long-stand­ing dream of turn­ing the is­land into a park. Light­foot, by con­trast, said she “con­sulted a lot of peo­ple along the way” and was motivated only by pub­lic safety.

“I don’t do any­thing in a vac­uum. I al­ways make sure that we’re reach­ing out proac­tively to talk to a num­ber of dif­fer­ent folks. And I think peo­ple un­der­stand, given what hap­pened and what was threat­ened, that this was about pub­lic safety,” she said.

Some peo­ple don’t be­lieve the mayor’s stated mo­tives and pro­claimed de­sire to avoid di­vert­ing pre­cious po­lice re­sources to­ward down­town protests and away from South Side and West Side neigh­bor­hoods strug­gling to con­tain gang vi­o­lence.

They have ac­cused Light­foot of re­ward­ing the ri­ot­ers. She dis­agreed.

“This was about pub­lic safety. Any­one who saw the video­tapes from a pre­vi­ous Friday night, which saw a peace­ful protest hi­jacked by vig­i­lantes who came there to hurt the po­lice but also other peo­ple got hurt in the en­su­ing chaos [knows bet­ter]. This was about pub­lic safety, pure and sim­ple,” she said.

The skep­tics also in­clude Ital­ian Amer­i­cans and other pro­po­nents of the Colum­bus stat­ues re­moved from Grant Park and Ar­rigo Park.

They don’t be­lieve the mayor when she says the stat­ues were “tem­po­rar­ily” moved to a safe place to pro­tect them from fur­ther dam­age. Light­foot dis­missed those skep­tics, as well. “I said it’s tem­po­rary,” the mayor said. Stat­ues of Colum­bus in Chicago and else­where have be­come a tar­get of protests against racial in­jus­tice. The Ital­ian ex­plorer mis­treated the in­dige­nous peo­ple he en­coun­tered, ac­tivists say, and his ar­rival in North Amer­ica led to col­o­niza­tion and ex­ploita­tion.

Last month, Light­foot said Chicago stat­ues of Colum­bus van­dal­ized re­peat­edly since the death of Ge­orge Floyd should not be torn down, but rather used to con­front the na­tion’s his­tory and trig­ger a “reck­on­ing” that’s long over­due. Yet af­ter the July 17 stand­off, she said her team has been de­vel­op­ing a plan for a “com­pre­hen­sive re­view of our pub­lic icons.”

On Mon­day, the mayor re­newed that com­mit­ment.

“What we’re gonna be an­nounc­ing is a process by which we take stock of mu­rals and mon­u­ments and other me­mo­ri­als to our past, but also that we talk about the past that hasn’t been high­lighted or lifted up. There’s a lot of rich­ness to our his­tory as Chicagoans as a city that doesn’t ap­pear in any way shape or form of memo­ri­al­iza­tion,” she said.

“We don’t do enough to talk about in­dige­nous peo­ples here in Chicago and that long his­tory . . . . There’s very lit­tle that memo­ri­al­izes and up­lifts the chal­lenges, but also the tri­umphs of peo­ple of color: Black, Lat­inx, Asian. We see very lit­tle com­mem­o­rat­ing . . . the con­tri­bu­tions of women in our city. This is a con­ver­sa­tion that’s long over­due, and we will have it.”

This is the case of the very un­no­ticed Christo­pher Colum­bus statue.

Af­ter protests that re­sulted in the re­moval of two Christo­pher Colum­bus stat­ues in the wee hours of Friday morn­ing — one in Lit­tle Italy, the other in Grant Park — the city’s (ap­par­ently) lone re­main­ing statue hon­or­ing the con­tro­ver­sial Ital­ian ex­plorer stands a bit over seven feet tall in the mid­dle of a Far South Side in­ter­sec­tion.

It’s un­clear if the statue has drawn the at­ten­tion of pro­test­ers.

The bronze fig­ure — one arm akimbo — is on a small, triangular con­crete pedes­trian is­land that’s sur­rounded by South Chicago Av­enue, Ex­change Av­enue and 92nd Street in the South Chicago neigh­bor­hood.

“It hasn’t been over­looked. I’m in con­ver­sa­tions with the city,” Ald. Su­san Sad­lowski Garza (10th) said Mon­day even­ing.

“I’m look­ing to take it down as soon as pos­si­ble,” she said, say­ing that she per­son­ally be­lieves it should be re­placed with a statue of a dif­fer­ent Ital­ian per­son who’s contribute­d to so­ci­ety.

Sad­lowski Garza was not surprised the statue was not caught up in re­cent protests.

“There’s a lot of peo­ple that never ven­ture this far south in the city, they just get on the Sky­way and never come here,” she said.

She’s heard from a num­ber of con­stituents who want the statue re­moved, in­clud­ing mem­bers of her own fam­ily.

Ac­cord­ing to the city’s web­site, the statue was orig­i­nally part of a pub­lic drinking foun­tain that was a gift from Chicago hote­lier John B. Drake. Ded­i­cated in 1892, it’s be­lieved to be Chicago’s first statue com­mem­o­rat­ing Colum­bus. It was orig­i­nally lo­cated on Wash­ing­ton Street near what was then City Hall but was moved to its present lo­ca­tion in 1909.

A spokes­woman for Mayor Lori Light­foot didn’t ad­dress the fate of the statue di­rectly but wrote in an email: “To en­sure a safe process for res­i­dents to ex­press their sup­port or con­cerns over any of Chicago’s mon­u­ments, me­mo­ri­als, and mu­rals, the City will be an­nounc­ing a for­mal frame­work to as­sess stat­ues in part­ner­ship with our lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.”

TYLER LARIVIERE/SUN-TIMES

City crews re­move the Christo­pher Colum­bus statue from its pedestal in Grant Park early Friday morn­ing.

Mayor Lori Light­foot

A statue of Christo­pher Colum­bus still stands at East 92nd Street near South Chicago and Ex­change av­enues.

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