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Court Victory Reinvigorates Fight to Preserve Pittsburgh's Columbus Statue

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Benjamin Hughes

April 20, 2024 - 19:03 pm

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Legal Triumph: Pennsylvania Court Revives Columbus Statue Preservation Effort

In a significant legal ruling, a unanimous panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has reversed a previous decision to dismiss a lawsuit aimed at preventing the removal of a Columbus statue in Pittsburgh. The court has remanded the case for a thorough reexamination, underscoring the notion that City Hall is not above the law.

Court Rulings Reshaping the Landscape for Historical Monuments

PITTSBURGH, April 20, 2024 /PRNewswire/ -- The future of Pittsburgh’s Christopher Columbus statue has taken a dramatic turn. In a sweeping 24-page opinion, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court invalidated the earlier dismissal of the case, signaling that the lower court "erred" in its 2022 judgment by overlooking significant legal considerations.

The judges emphasized that governmental bodies are constrained by legal boundaries and cannot act uncontested in matters where historical and cultural significance is debated. This ruling serves to reignite a contentious battle over how a city interprets its history and processes the public sentiments surrounding it.

Pittsburgh Columbus statue in Schenley Park The 30-foot bronze and granite statue, a masterpiece by Italian sculptor Frank Vittor, has stood sentinel since 1958 in Pittsburgh's venerable Schenley Park. (Credit: Andrew Stein, iStock)

The Fight for Heritage Led by the Italian-American Community

The lawsuit and subsequent appeal were spearheaded by Philadelphia attorney George Bochetto on behalf of the Italian Sons and Daughters of America (ISDA), a non-profit organization upholding cultural and fraternal values, founded in Pittsburgh in 1930. ISDA is a contributing member to the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations (COPOMIAO), showcasing the deep roots and influence of the Italian-American community.

George Bochetto conveyed his satisfaction with the Commonwealth Court's decision, indicating the previous dismissal as a "plain error" and expressing hope to resolve the issue amicably with Pittsburgh's mayor. His statement highlighted a desire to avoid further legal expenses and unnecessary taxpayer burdens.

The Statue's Symbolic Significance and Historical Context

The Columbus statue controversy is more than a legal wrangle; it's a struggle to protect a narrative cherished by communities that have contributed to Pittsburgh's development. “The bronze Columbus statue in Schenley Park, cast in 1958 from modest donations by impoverished Italian immigrants, stands as a testament to the enduring commitment and sacrifices of all immigrants who played a pivotal role in the ascendancy of Pittsburgh,” stated Basil M. Russo, president of both ISDA and COPOMIAO.

Russo underscored the statue’s significance in celebrating not only the Italian immigrant story but the collective immigrant journey that has shaped the city’s heritage.

The looming case will now circle back to Judge John T. McVay, Jr. of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas for further factual determination and a reevaluated verdict.

A Legal Precedent Influencing the Current Case

This legal dispute mirrors a separate lawsuit from December 2022, where the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court sided with Bochetto, blocking former Philadelphia Mayor's attempt to relocate a long-standing Columbus monument.

The implications of this earlier case proved significant, as elaborated in the aforementioned opinion, specifically referencing pages 17 – 19. The court's rationale in protecting that statue clearly resonated with the judges when considering the Pittsburgh statue's fate.

Columbus Day: A National Observation with Italian-American Roots

It's vital to recall the origins and significance of Columbus Day to comprehend the controversy surrounding these statues. President Benjamin Harrison orchestrated the first federal Columbus Day parade in New York City in 1892 to smooth over tensions between the United States and Italy. This event was a response to a tragic incident the prior year—America's most massive lynch mob had killed 11 Italian immigrants in New Orleans.

This unfortunate event prompted the creation of statues of Columbus across the U.S throughout the 20th century, commemorating Italian-American heritage and aiding their assimilation into American society. The Pittsburgh statue was erected to honor this legacy. Modern commemorations of Columbus Day champion Italian-American pride and cultural heritage.

For context on the contemporary celebrations of Columbus Day, one can refer to the 2022 and 2023 Columbus Day Proclamations, revealing how the historical perspective of the holiday is honored and preserved today.

Over the past couple of years, Basil Russo and his counterparts have engaged with White House officials to draft Columbus Day statements, reflecting an intricate understanding of the holiday's backstory and its modern implications.

The Influence of COPOMIAO in the Italian American Discourse

Founded in 1975 and headquartered in New York City, COPOMIAO represents a powerful federation comprising 63 preeminent Italian American organizations across the nation, involved in various cultural, educational, fraternal and advocacy initiatives. For more information about COPOMIAO and its mission, visit here.

Contact Information for Further Inquiries

Legal inquiries can be directed to George Bochetto, Esq., the attorney spearheading the lawsuit. Basil M. Russo, a significant advocate in the Italian American community and president of both ISDA and COPOMIAO, is also available for comments and information pertaining to the Columbus statue litigation and Italian American cultural matters.

In Conclusion

This turn of events in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court reflects a growing legal recognition of cultural and historical landmarks as more than just art or decor. They are living symbols of a community's narrative, embodying aspirations, struggles, and achievements of generations that have walked the streets of cities like Pittsburgh.

The Columbus statue, therefore, is not merely a piece of bronze and granite but a beacon of a larger debate over America's collective memory and identity – a debate that now returns to the lower courts to be judged once more.

As the case proceeds, the decision reflects a victory not just for the Italian Sons and Daughters of America but for all who advocate for the lawful preservation of monuments depicting significant historical narratives.

This news article is brought to you by the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations.

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