New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are in a competition to curry favor with leaders from the Roman Catholic and Italian-American communities, each promising to erect a statue honoring Mother Frances Cabrini, a nun who founded a religious order in the 19th century.
The flap started after Chirlane McCray, wife of de Blasio, proposed erecting a series of statues around New York City that honor the accomplishments of women under an initiative called “She Built NYC.” Members of the city’s Italian-American community lobbied to have Cabrini included on the first list, but she failed to make the cut.
Controversy erupted, and things got so heated that Chazz Palminteri, an actor known for his appearance in the 1993 film “A Bronx Tale,” accused McCray (who is black) of being a racist for not including Cabrini. Palminteri later called a radio show and apologized to de Blasio for the statement. De Blasio told the actor he would convey the apology to his wife and added, “I will guarantee you another round of statues is coming … real soon [and] Mother Cabrini is right at the top of the list for consideration.”
Palminteri remained skeptical that the statue would come to pass, remarking, “The proof is in the pudding now. Mother Cabrini has to get a statue.”
Sensing an opportunity, Cuomo, who has had a long-running political feud with de Blasio, stepped in and offered space and funding for the statue. Cuomo met with Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio (who since has been accused of sexually assaulting an altar boy in the 1970s) and others and vowed to find a spot for the statue in New York City on land that’s owned by the state, reported the New York Post.
“Everyone has to feel respected and included, and like they have a seat at the table,” Cuomo said on Columbus Day. “And the Italian-American community felt disrespected.” He vowed that the state would help the Catholic diocese get the statue put up, and later announced that he would allocate $750,000 to pay for it. For his part, de Blasio also insisted that the city would get involved in paying for and finding a home for the statue.
“[We] are trying to honor the majority of New Yorkers who are women and actually bring their history to life in this city, and we’re going to keep doing that and there’s going to be more ahead and I think Mother Cabrini is someone who should be honored and we’re going to make sure it happens,” de Blasio told WNYC radio.
In addition, U.S. Rep. Max Rose, a Democrat who represents parts of Staten Island and Brooklyn, has introduced legislation to rename a post office in Brooklyn after Cabrini.
Cabrini was born in 1850 in a province that was then part of the Austrian Empire. She became a nun in 1877 and three years later founded a new order, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In 1889, she came to America and began assisting Italian immigrants. She died in 1917 and was declared a saint by Pope Pius XII in 1946. Several memorials to her already exist in other states, including a shrine in Golden, Colo.