Mayor de Blasio defends wife against “racist” accusations over Mother Cabrini

Several nuns rode on a float alongside a statue of Mother Cabrini during a demonstration in Carroll Gardens — to protest the city for not building a statue of Mother Cabrini.
Photo by Trey Pentecost

For god’s sake!

Mayor Bill de Blasio and “Bronx Tales” actor Chazz Palminteri got into a fiery debate on The Brian Lehrer Show Friday morning, after the thespian called First Lady Chirlane McCray’s decision to snub Italian icon Mother Cabrini in her statue building contest “racist.”

“You don’t just call someone a racist because they started to try to address a historic wrong,” de Blasio told the “Bronx Tale” actor on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show. “The effort she was a part of created statues for white people, black people, Latino people, straight people, gay people, all five boroughs. That’s not racist, so get it together.”

The controversy surrounding the 20th-century patron saint of immigrants erupted in late August after McCray — Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife — overrode constituents who voted overwhelmingly to honor Mother Cabrini by erecting a new public statue.

The saint garnered more votes than any other woman during the First Lady’s She Built NYC public initiative, but McCray chose seven other women to be memorialized instead, sparking outrage among New York City’s Catholics. Last Sunday, more than 1,000 Brooklynites marched around Carroll Gardens in protest of the snub.

Palminteri joined the fight on Oct. 4, when he told hosts at 77 WABC radio that her decision to snub the New York-based saint was “racist.”

“Absolutely, she is being racist,” he said, according to a New York Post report. “If you’re an Italian-American and you’re listening to us right now, and if you have any soul in you, you have to do something. Stand up and do something.”

On Friday, Palminteri called into the Brian Lehrer Show to air his grievances directly to Hizzoner, who responds to callers every Friday on the live radio show. Palminteri argued that while he didn’t intend to call McCray “a racist,” he stood by his implication that her decision had an anti-Italian bias.

“I did not call her racist…but they asked me, ‘Do you think that is racism?’ And I said, ‘Well, it looks that way.’ It’s biased at the least,” Palminteri told Lehrer and the mayor.

De Blasio struck back, arguing that Palminteri’s harsh words were inappropriate.

“You don’t call someone a racist who isn’t a racist, it just isn’t factually right and it’s inappropriate and it’s unfair,” he said, adding that She Built NYC would have many more rounds, and that Mother Cabrini is still in the running for a statue.

When Palminteri countered that Mother Cabrini — who founded dozens of churches, schools, and hospitals throughout the state — should have received a statue in the first round, de Blasio lost his cool.

“That has nothing to do with race, for God’s sake!” de Blasio shouted. “I would have welcomed a call — for you to pick up the godforsaken phone and say, ‘Hey, a lot of us think this is a great idea. Can we make this happen?’ and I would have said, ‘That’s a great idea, let’s get to work on it.’”

Lehrer, who spoke only a couple times during the exchange, tried to resolve the feud by asking Palminteri if he wanted to take back his word choice. Eventually, Palminteri delivered a half-baked apology.

“I would like you to tell your wife that I apologize for using the word racism,. Again, I did not call her a racist but they asked me, ‘Does this sound like racism?’ and I said, ‘Yes,’” he said. In response, de Blasio said that Mother Cabrini “is right at the top of the list for consideration” for future statues.

Despite the conversation’s cordial end, the fight for Mother Cabrini isn’t over — the Diocese of Brooklyn will carry a statue of the saint in protest during Manhattan’s Columbus Day Parade on Monday, the Post reported.

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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