Cuomo announces plans to fund Mother Cabrini statue

Raising hell: Ursula Agosta (left) and Rosalie Graziano (right) are furious that First Lady Chirlane McCray ignored the winner of the She Built NYC initiative, Mother Cabrini.
Photo by Marcus Stevens

Governor Andrew Cuomo got one over on New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray and husband Bill de Blasio in announcing his plans to help fund a statue for the Italian icon Mother Cabrini, after the mayor’s wife snubbed the beloved saint during a vaunted statue-building contest to honor women.

“We are also pleased to announce that we are going to build a statue to Mother Cabrini,” Cuomo said at a press conference during Monday’s Columbus Day Parade. “She is certainly deserving of a statue and we will be working with Bishop DiMarzio and the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, and the Columbus Citizens Foundation, Angelo Vivolo is here with us today.”

The governor — who on Tuesday dropped the N-bomb in discussing discrimination against Italian Americans with WAMC host Alan Chartock — claimed that he would pitch in taxpayer money for the statue, which would supplement contributions from the Italian-American organization, Columbus Citizens Foundation, and the Diocese and Brooklyn, which have already raised funds for the monument.

The controversy surrounding the 20th-century saint and Italian icon erupted in late August, when Catholic members of St. Frances Cabrini Church in Bensonhurst pooled their votes to nab a top spot for the holy lady in a public statue building competition organized by McCray.

But despite winning more votes than any other nominee during the First Lady’s “She Built NYC” initiative, McCray snubbed Cabrini by choosing seven other women to be memorialized, sparking outrage among New York City’s Catholics.

And what began as a relatively small movement to honor Cabrini has since ballooned into a major issue for Catholics throughout the borough. Two weeks ago, more than 1,000 Brooklynites marched around Carroll Gardens in protest of the decision, and the Brooklyn Diocese mounted their own statue of the saint on a float during the Columbus Day Parade in Manhattan.

The debate came to a head when actor Chazz Palminteri called into the Brian Lehrer Show last Friday, where he and Mayor Bill de Blasio dueled over Paliminteri’s accusations that McCray’s snub was racist against Italians.

Cuomo joined the fight the following day, likening the mayor’s wife’s decision to exclude the patron saint of immigrants as an attack on the borough’s Italian community.

“As Italian Americans, we must also remember that we ourselves are not immune from attack,” Cuomo told attendees of the Columbus Citizens Foundation gala. “The leading vote getter by far was Mother Cabrini. Despite that, the city commission picked seven other women to honor, and excluded Mother Cabrini.”

Still, Cuomo equivocated when pressed to comment on McCray’s decision to bypass the saint, claiming that he’s more interested in building a new statue than in pointing fingers.

“Who started it, was it right, was it wrong? Who cares,” he said at a press conference during Monday’s Columbus Day Parade. “Fix it, resolve it, find peace.”

Reach reporter Rose Adams at radams@schnepsmedia.com or by calling (718) 260–8306. Follow her on Twitter @rose_n_adams
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