Columbus Day as usual

It was the Columbus Day before November’s election, so no surprise that Gov. Andrew Cuomo was out with a statement Monday that he was recommending the Columbus Circle statue to the National Register of Historic Places.

Cuomo knows that Italian-Americans tend to be paying attention to the statue. They were doing so dating to the statue’s creation in 1892.

“Many of the people who gathered in such numbers to witness the raising of the column were Italians,” reported The New York Times on Oct. 10 of that year. Even the workmen, the Times noted, were Italian.

The sculptor, Gaetano Russo, was from Sicily, and the statue was paid for by the founder of the first Italian-language daily newspaper in America.

The statue rose for the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the modern-day Caribbean, but it was also a time of growing influence for Italian immigrants in America.

The Times also reported on a Webster Hall banquet for the new monument, where there was “the usual commingling of the Italian and the national colors, which New Yorkers have become somewhat accustomed to of late.”

The flags haven’t exactly gotten separated much in New York in the years since then.

And the symbol of Columbus has also persisted. It helped “unify the diverse groups” that came to America from pre-unified Italy, “creating a national feeling that did not exist in Italy,” according to the draft paperwork filled out by the Cuomo administration for the historic registration

Not that Columbus has exactly been uncontroversial. What with the colonizing and the diseases and the discovery of a place that was already inhabited. That caught up with the aloof statue some 70 feet over Central Park last year, along with a number of other monuments in New York City.

It started with the white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Surveying the ugliness, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to start a “symbols of hate” commission in New York to take a look at controversial statues here.

Columbus was included in the commission’s work, and everyone had an opinion. Cuomo. The then-Republican candidate for mayor Nicole Malliotakis, who said Italian-descended de Blasio “obviously doesn’t have the heart and soul of an Italian.”

De Blasio, running for re-election at the time, backed off a bit from the monuments issue and said the commission would do its commissioning. There was the fear that the Italians, as ever, were watching.

In the end, the commission came back and recommended moving a different statue. De Blasio concurred with leaving Columbus where he was. He said at the time the city would take additive measures like placing new historical markers in or around Columbus Circle for more context.

What a difference a year makes. Cuomo’s business-as-usual Columbus announcement happened with some but not much fuss. A spokesman for the city Department of Cultural Affairs said those contextual historical markers “are a work in progress and we plan to have public updates in the months ahead.”

The Columbus wars seem like a long time ago what with Supreme Court confirmations, looming midterm elections, UN ambassador announced departures, continuing chaos for children caught in the nation’s immigration system. For now anyway, just the flag(s) waving of Columbus Day as usual.