SOUTHINGTON — Town leaders are debating the way forward after hearing from hundreds of residents who spoke at a recent public hearing or contacted councilors about a Christopher Columbus statue in front of the John Weichsel Municipal Center.
The bust of the Italian explorer was bought by local Italian clubs and erected on town land in 2017. Fifty residents who spoke at a public hearing held via video conference Monday were split nearly evenly over whether it should be taken down or remain.
Council chairwoman Victoria Triano, a Republican, said she wants town leaders to make a decision soon.
She was impressed with the thoughts and experiences shared Monday night, but said the issue needs to be resolved, not prolonged.
“The people have been through so much that I think we have a responsibility to bring it to an end. We need to have a vote,” Triano said.
She’s hoping to have that vote at the August meeting.
“At the end of the discussion, either someone is going to make a motion to take down Columbus or Columbus stays,” Triano said. “We can’t let this thing go on and on and on.”
Chris Palmieri, a Democratic councilor and minority leader, and the other two Democratic councilors proposed a committee that would explore compromise solutions. It would be comprised of members of local Italian groups as well as the Southington Historical Society, Southington Women for Progress, an area NAACP chapter, churches and the town’s Diversity Committee.
“Obviously it was a polarizing issue,” Palmieri said. “We are trying to find a path forward to maybe have both sides work together collaboratively.”
Residents that have contacted councilors have been nearly evenly divided, he said. While Triano said any decision will leave a portion of the town upset, Palmieri is hoping there’s a way to please both sides.
“We thought this is a way to maybe bring the community together and come up with some great ways to accomplish similar goals,” he said. “Maybe there’s another way to honor Italian Americans but not that man.”
During Monday’s hearing, speakers related the debate over Columbus to Black Lives Matter, Marxism, the denigration of minorities and the erasure of Western history. Several speakers talked about the historical record of Columbus.
Palmieri said the committee could recommend a course of action to the council by January. Triano said she didn’t want to wait that long for a decision.
“We heard the opinions of our community, now we need to govern,” she said.
Tom Lombardi, council vice chairman, said passion was strong among speakers during the public hearing. He didn’t see more meetings on the subject producing any positive results.
“I don’t think further conversation is going to get us anywhere,” he said. “When opinions are that strong, we have to make a decision and move on.”
The decision to put up the statue was made, Lombardi said. It is up to those who want it taken down to put forward a motion, something he has no plans to do.
The council, including Triano, Palmieri and Lombardi, voted unanimously in 2015 to allow the statue on public land. Town Manager Mark Sciota said monuments are erected at the discretion of the council.
The decision to name a building is a process laid out by a town ordinance.