An obscure city commission that was poised to rubber stamp the removal of Thomas Jefferson’s statue from City Hall because he was a slave owner will now hold a public hearing on the matter after The Post revealed the controversial move.
Mayoral appointees had planned to banish a statue of Jefferson from City Hall, where it has stood for nearly 200 years, The Post reported Wednesday.
The city’s 11-member Public Design Commission — made up of de Blasio appointees — previously scheduled “the long-term loan” of the 1833 plaster model of the Declaration of Independence author to the New-York Historical Society as part of its “consent” agenda for Monday.
The consent designation meant that the historic statue’s removal was scheduled for an up or down vote by the committee instead of a hearing with public testimony.
But on Thursday afternoon, following questions from The Post and other reporters about the statue, the Public Design Commission sent out a revised schedule that listed the contentious Jefferson maneuver as the top item on the public hearing agenda Monday.
The reversal came after de Blasio attempted to distance himself from the Founding Father’s exile from the City Council chambers — claiming Thursday morning the proposed removal was “motivated” by the legislative body.
In June 2020, before de Blasio announced his interest in running for governor, the mayor and his wife Chirlane McCray said that their new “Commission on Racial Justice and Reconciliation,” would review the status of historic figures in public buildings including City Hall monuments to both Jefferson and George Washington, who as a general won the Revolutionary War, then became the nation’s first president. Washington became a slave owner at age 11.
But on Thursday, during a press briefing, de Blasio suddenly tried to distance himself from his and the first lady’s involvement in the matter. The mayor said he respects the city’s legislative body and views removing the Founding Father’s model from the Council chambers as an “understandable request.”
“It came from the Council, not from me or the First Lady,” he claimed. “This was a request from the City Council. That’s what motivated it.
“I think the important thing here to recognize is the City Council spoke out of their belief for what is right for their chamber, for their side of City Hall, and that to me is just a straightforward matter,” he added. “I just respect the Council, I respect [that] it’s their side of the building. That’s what generated this. … If that’s what they feel, I want to respect them as another branch of government.”
De Blasio did not mention the possibility of moving Jefferson’s likeness to the side of City Hall controlled by the mayor’s office.
The statue’s potential removal comes over a year after several City Council members asked the mayor to banish Jefferson from the Council chambers because the nation’s third president owned 600 slaves and expressed racist sentiments.
While de Blasio insisted Thursday that a “balance” will be struck between honoring “one of the most profound figures” in American history and recognizing the “profoundly troubling” part of of the “very complex” Founding Father, a rep for the New-York Historical Society told The Post there are “no specific plans” to showcase the sculpture.
“We are in ongoing discussions about the statue,” New-York Historical Society spokesperson Marybeth Ihle wrote Wednesday in an email. “While there are no specific plans for display at the moment, New-York Historical might in future years present an exhibition that may include it.”
Meanwhile, Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa wondered why the mayor had bothered paying heed to the Jefferson removal request.
“You would say, with everything that’s gone wrong in the City of New York, is this really the most pressing issue in the city now in the waning days of de Blasio’s failed mayorship? Removing Thomas Jefferson?” the Guardian Angels founder said during a press conference outside City Hall.
He vowed to, if elected, to reverse the Jefferson bust boot and return the Jefferson statue to the Council chambers.
“I say, when I get elected mayor of the City of New York, I will rescind this decision. This statue of Thomas Jefferson should remain at its rightful place as it has for 186 years, through depression, through war, through peace,” he declared. “He was a symbol to look up to, to say this is what this country stands for, the freedoms that so many of us take for granted.”
Sliwa’s opponent in the Nov. 2 mayoral general election, Democratic nominee Eric Adams, said in July that he wants to rename many city streets and buildings that honor historical figures who owned slaves.
“As many as possible,” he told reporters, when asked if he’d commit to changing every street and building named for a slave owner. “We have to clean up our history.”
On Thursday, he said of the Jefferson statue controversy, “Our city’s statues and landmarks must be more representative of New Yorkers and New York’s history —particularly at City Hall. 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.
“I am glad that the Public Design Commission will hear from the public on this issue, and I hope they consider uplifting underrepresented faces and communities to be honored and memorialized at City Hall and elsewhere in our city.”