SCOTCH PLAINS — The township will keep its Christopher Columbus monument in front of the municipal building after a unanimous 5-0 vote by the Township Council.

Mayor Al Smith announced the decision Wednesday in a lengthy post on his Facebook page.

Noting “Christopher Columbus is a controversial man,” Smith said the case could be made for his character either way.

“Although others may have stumbled onto America, it was Columbus who discovered the American continent, leading to among other things the great nation we live in today.”

“To remove the monument due to what Christopher Columbus may or may not have done 500 years ago would be greatly disrespectful to all the current and past Scotch Plains Italian-Americans who have contributed so much to making Scotch Plains the great community it is," Smith said.

Scotch Plains demonstration Columbus
Scotch Plains Mayor Al Smith and Councilman Ted Spera both took part in a "peaceful demonstration" July 21, 2020 to support the Columbus monument remaining. (Mayor Al Smith Facebook page)

Smith and Councilman Ted Spera both walked, wearing masks, in a "peaceful demonstration" to support keeping the white marble statue of a hand holding a sphere, which was dedicated in 1998.

Smith said he would work to maintain the monument in recognition of contributions that Italian-Americans have made to Scotch Plains and still planned to "proudly participate" in Columbus Day ceremonies in October.

The mayor said that the community cannot get distracted from current issues like fighting to remove the vestiges of racism, noting "our real work isn’t done."

"Christopher Columbus has been dead for over 500 years, but Breonna Taylor has been dead less than five months and George Floyd less than two months. When I marched with Black Lives Matter, along with my fellow council members and our police a month ago, we did it to bring our community together to focus on what matters now," Smith said.

The marble sculpture was donated in 1998 by the local chapter of Unico National, the Italian American Club of Scotch Plains and a local council of the Knights of Columbus.

The decision to maintain the monument follows a few other New Jersey communities deciding to remove their own Columbus statues. Some, including Camden and Newark, made the decision out of respect for the divisiveness of the explorer's actions.

At least two other statues privately maintained by Italian American groups in Atlantic City and Newark were removed for other reasons, including to avoid damage by vandals.

In Trenton, Mayor Reed Gusciora said “lots of input” from residents and community groups was involved in the decision to remove a statue from the city's Columbus park earlier this month until a more suitable home for it can be found.

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