A judge ruled Friday that Philadelphia must remove the plywood box covering the statue of Christopher Columbus in Marconi Plaza, setting up a possible standoff in the ongoing culture clash two days before the once time-honored but now controversial parade in the explorer’s name.
Common Pleas Court Judge Paula Patrick issued her ruling in response to a request by the Friends of Marconi Plaza to have the plywood removed. Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration quickly filed notice that it would appeal — and said it won’t remove the box in the meantime.
George Bochetto, an attorney representing the supporters of the statue, said they aren’t going to wait around for the city to act.
“We’re going to make sure that, by the time the Columbus Day parade concludes at Marconi Plaza on Sunday, that that box is down,” Bochetto said. “If the city doesn’t take it down, we’ll take it down for them.”
On Saturday, Bochetto issued a statement to supporters saying he intended to file an “emergency motion” to allow for the box’s removal.
“If we are denied, then we should put up the banners etc, but not tear down the box. We do not want to give the two creeps — Larry and Jimmy — any basis to “arrest” anyone,” Bochetto said, referring to District Attorney Larry Krasner and Kenney.
It’s unclear if the city will attempt to prevent people from removing the plywood from the South Philadelphia monument. In a statement, Kenney spokesperson Kevin Lessard said the administration continues to believe “it is in the best interest and public safety of all Philadelphians that the statue remains secured in its box.”
Responding to Bochetto’s comments on Friday, he added: “The City has appealed and will not remove any box until that appeal is decided. Further, destruction of public property is a crime, and anyone — including George Bochetto — participating in such action will be held accountable for their actions.”
Friday’s court action thrust the statue back into the news at the start of what for decades had been Columbus Day weekend. It became a flash point and was covered with plywood during racial justice protests last summer following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Then the Historical Commission voted to remove it, and the legal fight began.
City workers last year covered the statue with a box, which the Kenney administration said was meant to protect it while they determined its fate.
Patrick ruled earlier this year that the city couldn’t remove the statue from South Philadelphia as planned, writing that its decision last year to remove the statue was based on insufficient evidence. The Kenney administration is appealing that ruling in Commonwealth Court.
Bochetto first filed a motion in August asking Patrick to require the city to remove the plywood while it pursues its appeal, arguing that there is no legal basis for the city to keep the wooden box in place. He filed another brief in support of that motion this week.
In her order Friday, Patrick wrote that the city can “erect a clear structure encompassing the statue for protective purposes” but must remove the plywood.
The judge, a Republican, faced criticism earlier this year when she was listed as a speaker at a Gettysburg event linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory. Patrick, however, said she never planned to attend the event and didn’t know why she was listed as a speaker.
The Philadelphia statue was covered with plywood on Columbus Day last year, but still drew attention when former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani visited Marconi Plaza while campaigning for former President Donald Trump.
Kenney signed an executive order this year changing the name of the city’s annual October holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day. Monday will be the first city holiday under the new name.