San Jose City Council Votes to Remove Christopher Columbus Statue

Christopher Columbus statue to be removed from San Jose City Hall / Twitter
February 1, 2018

The San Jose, California City Council voted Tuesday night to remove a statue of explorer Christopher Columbus from the City Hall lobby after hours of contentious debate.

Tuesday night's debate revolved heavily around city officials floating suggestions about where the statue should be moved since it has been a prominent fixture at San Jose’s City Hall since the 1950’s, according to local CBS affiliate KPIX 5.

One official suggested  the statue of the Italian explorer should be placed in the San Jose Mineta Airport, but others thought that would be too controversial. None of the local museums reportedly wanted the statue, so the council members gave the local Italian-American community leaders six weeks to find an appropriate location. After that time, the statue will be placed in storage.

"Columbus never landed in the Alviso Marina. So there is no policy basis for keeping a statue of somebody who was not from San Jose in City Hall," said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo (D.).

Italian-American groups gave the marble statue, hand carved in Italy, as a gift to the city of San Jose.

While there are some people who see Columbus as a symbol of "slavery" and "genocide," and have therefore sought  to remove symbols of the explorer across the country, some members of Italian-American groups in San Jose want the statue to stay.

"It’s kind of a setback in our culture. Columbus is renown throughout the world, not just in Italy," said Tony Zerbo with the Italian American Heritage Foundation. "Italian Americans here, in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area are very proud of that."

The statue has been vandalized and put back together twice.

"Look, I’m Italian American. I think my grandfather was a member of the group that donated it," said Liccardo. "But I think that our understanding of history evolves as we learn more."

But statue backers expected more support from Liccardo.

"I’m really disappointed in him, he’s supposed to be our leader in the Italian American community," said Zerbo.

The CBS affiliate noted the debate was not the first time a statue has caused controversy in the city. A statue of former San Jose major Thomas Fallon raising the American flag over the city during the war with Mexico was stored for years because it offended Mexican Americans.

Ultimately, a statue of an Aztec plumed serpent was commissioned to "provide cultural balance."

Watch coverage of the debate: