In Brief

NYC Mayor De Blasio and Governor Cuomo Face Off Over Mother Cabrini Statue

The rivalry between the political opponents was cemented after Cuomo announced he would bypass the mayor and fund the polarizing Mother Cabrini statue with state money.

A stained glass depiction of Mother Cabrini (via Karen Green/Flickr)

The long-standing rivalry between Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio was cemented on Monday when the Governor of New York announced he would bypass the mayor and fund the polarizing Mother Cabrini statue with state money.

For months, the two political figures have committed to a very public feud over Mayor de Blasio’s decision to exclude Cabrini, a Roman Catholic Saint-immigrant, from a city initiative to honor notable women with statues around New York. (The initiative was inspired by dismal figures on the gender imbalance of New York’s statues: as of December 2018, nearly 150 statues in the city were of men, a pitiful five were devoted to women.)

Francesca Cabrini, also known as Mother Cabrini (via Wikimedia Commons)

“Mother Cabrini was a great New Yorker, a great Italian-American immigrant,” Cuomo said at the annual Columbus Day Parade on Monday — most likely a jab at his foil, de Blasio.  “She came to this city and she helped scores of immigrants who came to New York,” he added.

Cabrini, the first naturalized American citizen to be canonized, is the patron saint of immigrants.

In the same address, Cuomo charted his plan to work alongside the Brooklyn diocese — which had already announced its intention to build a statue of Cabrini near Borough Hall — to secure funding.

“They need additional funding, I said the state will provide additional funding because we support this,” Cuomo declared. “It’s not that they have to do it on their own. We’ll find an artist, find a site, find a location. The state’s role will be supportive, and the state will provide funding.”

When asked to comment as he marched in the parade, de Blasio remained tight-lipped. But during an appearance on Fox 5 that evening, he referred to Cuomo’s statement as a “manufactured controversy.”

“God bless him,” the mayor added of Gov. Cuomo. “But again, it’s a lot of people out there for whatever agendas, playing a lot of games. It’s not fair to people.”

A postcard for Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, Mother Cabrini School in West Park, NY (circa 1930-1945) (via Boston Public Library/Flickr)

When the She Built NYC initiative first launched last year, over 326 famous women were proposed, The Wall Street Journal reported. Cabrini, the undisputed winner, received an impressive number of votes — 219 nominations — but DeBlasio did not include her in the final lineup. The second-highest number of votes, 89, went to Jane Jacobs, a celebrated urban theorist.

When the first round of women were announced, Cabrini was conspicuously absent — and Cuomo and other Italian-Americans were quick to voice their disappointment. The other figures selected in the first round were: Rep. Shirley Chisholm (Brooklyn), Billie Holiday (Queens), Elizabeth Jennings Graham (Manhattan), Dr. Helen Rodriguez Trías (Bronx), Katherine Walker (Staten Island), and Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera (Manhattan).

Earlier this month, Italian-American actor Chazz Palminteri sharply questioned de Blasio during Brian Leher’s “Ask the Mayor” segment on WNYC radio.

“How could we just disregard Mother Cabrini and say, okay, she’s out and these other[s] are in?” Palminteri said on air. (Earlier that week, he dubbed New York City’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, a “racist,” but eventually apologized for his comment. McCray was among the deciders who allocated She Built’s resources.)

Presumably in an effort to quell the opposition, De Blasio said last week that Cabrini “is right at the top of the list for consideration” for the next round of statues.

At Monday’s Columbus Day Parade, the Diocese of Brooklyn debuted a float that proudly featured Cabrini — a theoretical act of defiance against de Blasio.

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