A Philadelphia judge on Tuesday ruled that the controversial Christopher Columbus statue at Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia can remain there, reversing a decision by city officials to have it removed.
In a seven-page decision, Common Pleas Court Judge Paula Patrick said the decision last year to remove the statue was not supported by law and was based on insufficient evidence.
“It is baffling to this court as to how the City of Philadelphia wants to remove the Statue without any legal basis. The city’s entire argument and case is devoid of any legal foundation,” Patrick wrote.
The judge’s ruling overturned a Sept. 29 decision by the city’s Board of License and Inspection Review that upheld a July 24 decision by the Philadelphia Historical Commission to remove the statue.
Patrick wrote that the city failed to provide an adequate opportunity for public input about the future of the statue.
Kevin Lessard, spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney, said in an emailed statement: “While we are very disappointed with the ruling, we’re reviewing it now and exploring all potential options — including a possible appeal. The statue remains in Marconi Plaza and will continue to be secured in its existing box.”
The suit was brought by Friends of Marconi Plaza; Rich Cedrone, the group’s president; and Joseph Q. Mirarchi, a South Philadelphia resident.
The attorney representing the plaintiffs, George Bochetto, said they were “ecstatic.”
Bochetto said he would ask Patrick as early as Wednesday to order that a box constructed by the city to cover the statue be removed.
The statue became a flash point in June 2020 following general civil unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The following month, Kenney’s chief of staff told the Art Commission that removing the statue was a matter of public safety.
Patrick wrote that since June 2020 the city failed to provide evidence of an ongoing danger to the public, and called the confrontations that month “isolated.”
The statue was targeted by critics amid a national reckoning over racism and monuments to controversial figures.
Bochetto also represents a group suing the city in federal court over the removal last year of the statue of Frank l. Rizzo, the late mayor and former police commissioner.
Members of the Frank L. Rizzo Monument Committee, which raised money to commission the statue, is seeking to have it returned to them. The city placed the statue in storage after removing it in the middle of the night on June 3, 2020.
Bochetto said he expected a ruling in the Rizzo case “any day now.”
Patrick, a Republican, garnered controversy herself in April when she was listed as a featured speaker to a QAnon-connected gathering in Gettysburg.
Patrick said she wasn’t invited to the “Patriots Arise, Awakening the Dead!” event and didn’t plan to attend.