Aug. 27, 2019 By Allie Griffin
Statues of women influential in New York City’s history are about to go up around the city, yet New Yorkers don’t appear to be getting much say on which ones are to be honored.
As part of the city’s ‘She Built NYC’ initiative, New Yorkers were asked to submit nominees and vote on which women the city should install statues of throughout the boroughs. Yet the initiative’s panel– overseen by First Lady Chirlane McCray–has ignored the public’s most-voted-for woman, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini.
Now, State Sen. Joseph Addabbo has penned a letter to McCray asking for an explanation as to why her panel ignored the public’s top pick.
McCray began the ‘She Built NYC’ initiative last summer to add more monuments of women who helped shape New York City throughout the boroughs. Currently, only five of New York’s 150 statues of historical figures feature women, according to the Mayor’s Office.
The project was opened up to the public for suggestions, drawing more than 2,000 nominations which was whittled down to 327 and then voted on by New Yorkers. Yet, it was McCray’s team who got the final say and allegedly ignored New Yorkers’ top choice.
Mother Cabrini, an Italian immigrant and America’s first saint, took top spot with more than double the amount of votes than the second runner up. Despite her popularity, the city has no plans on erecting a statue in her honor.
“I am not disputing the women chosen by the panel for this initiative, but I am questioning why ‘She Built NYC’ would hold a public poll and then decide to ignore the voice of the people by not including the woman who finished with the most votes by a large margin,” said Addabbo, who is also the President of the Conference of Italian American Legislators.
“It makes little sense to hold a vote and then go against the overwhelming winner of that vote.”
Instead, the seven women the city chose to honor are jazz singer Billie Holiday, desegregation activist Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Latina doctor Helen Rodriguez Trias, LGBTQ advocates Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, the first black congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and lighthouse keeper Katherine Walker.
None of the first four women were among the top seven nominees picked in the poll, according to the New York Post.
Billie Holiday’s statue will be placed near Queen’s Borough Hall in Kew Gardens. Holiday was born in 1915 and lived in Addisleigh Park in St. Albans and later in Flushing. She is considered one of the world’s best jazz singers and was among the first black women to sing with a white orchestra.
Addabbo urged the ‘She Built NYC’ panel to reconsider adding Mother Cabrini to the list of women honored by new statues.
Cabrini came to New York in the 1800s from Italy and founded several orphanages, schools and hospitals for Italian immigrants and other New Yorkers. After her death, she was canonized by the Catholic Church and is recognized as the country’s first saint.
“Mother Cabrini’s contributions to New York City and the burgeoning immigrant community cannot be overlooked,” Addabbo said. “If there was ever a woman who deserved to be honored with a statue in her image for her work in helping to shape New York City, I believe Mother Cabrini was a great choice selected by the people.”