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Tuesday, Mar 21, 2023

Philadelphia must remove box covering Christopher Columbus statue, judge rules

The Christopher Columbus statue will now stand freely in Marconi Plaza, Philadelphia after a judge ruled that the statue should not be boxed or removed.
A box covering a statue of Christopher Columbus in Philadelphia has been removed after a commonwealth judge ruled against Mayor Jim Kenney—who previously called for the statue to be taken down. 

In a ruling last week, Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt ordered that the Marconi Plaza statue be uncovered, after remaining inside a green, white, and red plywood box since June 2020. The box was painted at the request of Council member Mark Squilla, who represents the district. 

Leavitt said if the mayor or the city takes issue with the statue's "message," they can add their own plaque with additional information. She also noted that the city accepted the statue as a donation in 1876 and thus has a "fiduciary duty" to preserve the statue, which was designated as a historic object in 2017.

"The Columbus statue is not City property as is, for example, a City snowblower," Leavitt added.

The ruling reversed a 2021 court decision that allowed the city to keep the box around the statue. However, the ruling also noted that the city failed to provide evidence that the statues' removal was necessary.

Speaking with CBS 3 Eyewitness News, Kenney said that the box was originally put up during racial injustice protests in the summer of 2020 for the safety of residents, citing "escalating" fights near the statue. 

"We didn’t have the capacity at the time to remove the statue—or the legal authority, and we figured if we boxed it we’d put it out of sight out of mind, which happened, and things calmed down. It’s been kind of status quo ever since," he said. 

At the time, the city’s Historical Commission voted to remove the statue, angering Italian American groups who vowed to preserve it. 

Kevin Lessard, a spokesman for Kenney, said the city will respect the court ruling, but city officials expressed disappointment at the outcome. 

"We continue to believe that the Christopher Columbus statue, which has been a source of controversy in Philadelphia, should be removed from its current position at Marconi Plaza," Lessard said on Friday.

A lawsuit settlement announced last year allowed another 106-foot-tall Christopher Columbus monument at Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River to remain in place with coverings removed for the foreseeable future, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

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