NEW YORK — It appears Thomas Jefferson’s days keeping watch over City Council chambers are numbered.
What You Need To Know
- The city’s Public Design Commission will vote Monday on removing the Thomas Jefferson statue from City Council chambers
- Council members requested the move last summer, citing Jefferson’s history as a slaveholder
- Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa blasted the move, while Democrat Eric Adams voiced support
- Mayor de Blasio distanced himself from the decision and said the commission will exercise its own judgment
Monday, the city’s Public Design Commission will vote on whether to remove the Jefferson statue that has stood in City Hall for almost 200 years and relocate it to the New-York Historical Society.
It’s the product of an ongoing effort to reevaluate monuments to historical figures who were slaveholders.
But Mayor Bill de Blasio is distancing himself from the decision.
“This was a request from the City Council,” he said Thursday.
That request came from Council Speaker Corey Johnson and members of the council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, who asked for the statue’s removal last summer amid the racial reckoning brought on by the murder of George Floyd by police.
The mayor himself did not stake out a position on either side of the issue Thursday.
“The City Council spoke out of their belief of what is right for their chamber, for their side of City Hall. And that to me is just a straightforward matter,” he said. “If that’s what they feel, I want to respect them as another branch of government.”
The move immediately drew outrage from the right, including Republican candidate for mayor Curtis Sliwa, who pointed to Jefferson’s historical significance as a Founding Father. Sliwa said he would rescind the order if elected.
“Are we completely losing our minds and forgetting our history?” he said at a news conference outside City Hall on Thursday morning.
Democratic nominee Eric Adams voiced support for the move in a statement. “Our city’s statues and landmarks must be more representative of New Yorkers and New York’s history—particularly at City Hall,” he said. “There are a number of appropriate figures to honor in our seat of government who are more directly meaningful to our people and are more reflective of our city’s history than Thomas Jefferson.”
Adams had said previously he would aim to rename as many streets and buildings as possible that are named after slaveholders.
Sliwa challenged the notion Thursday.
“If you’re saying that schools should no longer have the names of slaveholders attached to it, does that include George Washington High School in Washington Heights?” he asked. “Does that include Thomas Jefferson High School in East New York on Pennsylvania Avenue? Does that include James Madison High School?”
But in a statement Wednesday, the council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus said that any history of Jefferson should acknowledge "the fact that this Founding Father held dominion over 600 African slaves, and likened the notion of their freedom from captivity to, ‘abandoning children.’”
The Public Design Commission will accept public testimony on the matter prior to its vote Monday. While the mayor appoints all 11 members of the commission, he said they exercise their own judgment.
“I start with the assumption that it’ll be approved, but I don’t know,” he said. “That’s ultimately the decision that that commission makes.”
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