Thomas Jefferson statue ousted from City Hall by end of year

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A city commission voted to remove the statue of Thomas Jefferson from the City Council chamber by the end of the year — though the body is still debating where to send the monument to the Founding Father.

The Public Design Commission voted unanimously Monday to banish the nation’s third president from the legislative chamber at City Hall after four lawmakers testified that his status as a slaveholder was an affront to the council’s many African American members.

“We acknowledge that the piece needs to be removed from the City Council chamber,” said commission president Signe Nielsen.

“We as a commission will act before the end of 2021 in finding an appropriate location where it remains in the public realm,” Nielsen said, following a two hour debate on the topic.

The nine-member commission, whose members are mayoral appointees, had originally scheduled a vote to loan the 1833 painted plaster statue of the Declaration of Independence author to the New-York Historical Society. The original remains in the US Capitol.

a statue of Thomas Jefferson, right, stands in New York's City Hall Council Chamber
The statue of Thomas Jefferson will be removed from City Hall by the end of the year.
AP Photo/Richard Drew, File

But Nielsen said she was opposed to that plan, crafted by council members, because the society is a private institution that charges a $22 entrance fee.

“Public art to me means public, not pay to see,” said Nielsen.

The historical monument was gifted to the city in 1834 by Uriah Phillips Levy, the nation’s first Jewish Naval commodore and an admirer of Jefferson’s belief in religious freedom.

Members of the public and the commission suggested different venues for the statue including the Governor’s Room in City Hall just across from the Council chambers and the New York Public Library, which has a copy of the Declaration of Independence in Jefferson’s handwriting.

Assemblyman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) who first took up the quest to remove Jefferson from the Council chambers 20 years ago when he was a member, said the revolutionary hero could go in a trash heap for all he cared.

“I think it should be put in storage somewhere, destroyed or whatever,” Barron testified.

“He was a slave-owning pedophile,” Barron said, referring to Jefferson’s sexual relationship with his slave Sally Heming that reportedly started when she was just 14 and he was 44.

University of Oxford historian Raymond Lavertue countered that Jefferson should be removed from Council chambers but kept in a “seat of government in a public space.”

He testified that Jefferson is a “massively flawed” human being, who’s not being honored as a saint– but for his ideas about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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