Italian-American actor Chazz Palminteri called out the wife of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as “racist” for choosing to ignore the results of a public vote to determine which women would be honored with statues in the city.
The leading vote-getter in the “She Built NYC” competition was Mother Frances Cabrini, the first American saint who spent her life helping the needy in the late 1800s. A group led by Chirlane McCray, the wife of de Blasio, chose to pass over Cabrini in favor of more women of color, a drag queen and an LGBTQ activist.
“Absolutely, she is being racist,” said Palminteri on Friday. The “Bronx Tale” actor was a guest on the “Bernie & Sid” show on 77 WABC. “C’mon. As Italian Americans we have to speak up. If you’re an Italian American and you’re listening to us right now, and if you have any soul in you, you have to do something. Stand up and do something.”
— Chazz Palminteri (@chazzpalminteri) October 5, 2019
Out of the seven who were chosen, four are black — jazz singer Billie Holiday, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, desegregation activist Elizabeth Jennings Graham, and LGBTQ activist Marsha Johnson, a drag queen who sometimes identified as a woman. In addition, two Hispanics will get get statues — abortion-rights activist Helen Rodriguez Trias and transgender advocate Sylvia Rivera, who was born Jose, according to the NY Post.
Only one of the seven new statues will honor a white woman — Katherine Walker, who staffed the Robbins Reef Lighthouse in New York Harbor for 30 years.
Phil Foglia of the Italian-Americans Legal Defense and Higher Education Fund said: “The People of NYC deserve an explanation for this arbitrary decision that flies in the face of the nominating process and this disheartening gesture of disrespect to the Italian-American community.” Foglia was on the radio program with Palminteri and said that he previously wrote to McCray and told her the decision to ignore Cabrini “can only be seen as an insult to Italian-Americans.”
The Catholic icon was born in Italy and became an American citizen before her death. She founded an upstate New York orphanage, a school for girls in Washington Heights, and 67 organizations around the country for the needy in the late 1880s.
The Post reported that McCray responded to Foglia in a September 25 letter that said Cabrini “led a remarkable life” and “set an example of compassion and leadership that resonates powerfully today.” Without further explaining the choices for the statue honors, she wrote: “it will take many more years to correct centuries of neglect and the glaring gender and ethnic imbalance in our public spaces.”
McCray’s spokeswoman Jaclyn Rothenberg said in an emailed statement to the Post that “Chazz Palminteri’s statement is ludacris [sic] and those who would like the Cabrini statue are invited to meet with [Department of Cultural Affairs] Commissioner [Tom] Finkelpearl to learn more about the process.”
In August, after the announcement on the decision of which women were to be honored, City Councilman Justin Brannan wrote to McCray’s office saying, “Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, who received more nominations from New Yorkers than any other woman during the process, has been completely ignored. My simple question is this: Why open this for a public vote and then ignore the results?”
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