Governor Andrew Cuomo joined Kings County Catholics in their battle against Mayor Bill de Blasio and wife Chirlane McCray, likening the First Lady’s snub of Brooklyn’s patron saint of immigrants to 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 gala for the Italian-American organization Columbus Citizens Foundation. “The leading vote getter by far was Mother Cabrini. Despite that, the city commission picked seven other women to honor, and excluded Mother Cabrini.”
The controversy surrounding 20th-century saint and Italian icon Mother Cabrini 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.
During Saturday’s remarks, the governor listed the snub as an example of “discrimination” and “the ugliness of Italian American stereotyping,” and threw his support behind the Diocese of Brooklyn’s plan to fund another statue for the saint.
“We should support them. Let’s join with them tonight. Let’s stand up and demand respect for our community,” he said.
Gala attendees erupted in applause at Cuomo’s remarks, according to one attendee, who told the New York Post that the statement was a clear “slap in the face” to the mayor.
“The reaction in the room was tremendous,” said Joseph Scelsa, the founder and president of the Italian-American Museum.
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.”