Friday, July 3, 2020

The Plot To Whack Columbus In The Dead Of Night

By Ralph Cipriano

On June 15th in Common Pleas Court, City Solicitor Marcel Pratt was trying to assure Judge Paula Patrick that his boss, trigger-happy Mayor Jim Kenney, had no plans to whack the Christopher Columbus statue in the dead of night. 

Even though just twelve days earlier, that's exactly what Boss Kenney had done to the Frank Rizzo statue. But George Bochetto, the lawyer for residents seeking to defend the Columbus statue, had already seen this act before.

"And we were told, Your Honor, in writing --- I have the letter from the managing director -- that they [the city] were going to go through the Art Commission," and not move the Rizzo statue, Bochetto told the judge. "And at 1:00 in the morning, without announcement, without notice, without any warning, that statue was removed. And we are definitely concerned that that's exactly what's going to happen here."

Bochetto was in court seeking an emergency injunction to protect the next target of Kenney's virulent hatred of public monuments to Italians, the Christopher Columbus statue. Bochetto told the judge that although he believed Pratt to be a "wonderful civil servant," "the mayor has certain agendas that may not be shared with Mr. Pratt. And I think that the people, given the Rizzo statue experience, are entitled to some kind of assurance that the mayor isn't going to just declare a public emergency in the middle of the night and remove that statue."

The judge agreed with Bochetto that it was time to take a stand against lawlessness and mob rule in Philadelphia, even if in this case this particular mob was being led by a bully named Jim Kenney.

"We are a civilized society, which is why we have a court system," the judge reminded Pratt, and his boss, the mayor. "So we can't allow anybody at the pulpit to kind of bully the governmental system as well as the courts to then try to make a determination themselves circumventing the law and the process."

"In this nation we still have an orderly process," the judge reminded Pratt and Kenney. "It's called the law, and when the rule of law is to run out, chaos is imminent. So clearly we must follow the law."

"I'm sorry that there are people who don't understand that and they're willing to do things contrary to that," the judge lectured Pratt. "But one of the things that the mayor can do and should do until the Art Commission hears this is that the statue can be reasonably protected so that public safety is not an issue, and that's something not to difficult for the city to do."

"The Home Rule charter still rules in Philadelphia, and so I as the judge can't then make the determination to tell the mayor, well, you don't have to follow the Home Charter," the judge said.

The judge also told Pratt that she wasn't buying his argument that the mayor could overrule the city charter when it comes to whacking exhibits of public art in the  middle of the night. Pratt had argued that the mayor could overrule the city charter based on a 2018 directive from the managing director that outlined a couple of different loopholes for getting around the charter when it came to whacking public art exhibits, namely if there was a public emergency, or the city wasn't able to guarantee the safety of the statue.

"My only point is that if something happens, we can't have our hands tied," Pratt warned the judge. "We still need the ability to go in and remove the statue if there is a threat to public safety."

But the judge wasn't buying that either.

"My job or my concern is not that I tie the hands of the mayor," the judge replied. "My concern is that I want to make sure that the law is properly followed even by the mayor himself. That's all."

Is it any wonder with talk like that why the city has elected to move a complaint filed by Bochetto over the treatment of the Rizzo statue to federal court, rather than go another round in Common Pleas Court with Judge Patrick?

Meanwhile, Bochetto, who is fighting the statue wars on two fronts, on behalf of Rizzo and Columbus, sent a letter to Judge Patrick yesterday seeking a motion for an emergency hearing in the Columbus case.

The reason why, Bochetto explained in a letter to the judge, was that "The city and the mayor have failed to abide" by the judge's June 18th order that required the city to act in good faith to protect the Columbus statue.

"The city has elected to disregard most of the procedural safeguards that all interested stakeholders have an opportunity to be heard" in the battle over whether the Columbus statue should be moved from its present location at Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia, Bochetto wrote the judge.

In the case of what to do with the Columbus statue, Bochetto wants the city to hear testimony from the Historic Commission, as well as the defunct Fairmount Park Commission, which formally took custody of the Columbus statue in 1876, as a gift from the king of Italy. 

Bochetto claims the Fairmount Park Commission, which was set up by the state, was illegally put out of business by an overreaching city ordinance in 2008.

"The city has also refused to negotiate . . . about the box installed around the statue, which the city unilaterally erected using plywood," Bochetto told the judge. Since the city put Columbus in a box, Bochetto told the judge, the public has been blocked "from viewing the statue" without ever discussing the matter with Bochetto.

Bochetto wants the top of the statue to "be encased with some sort of plexiglass, "but the city has refused that suggestion and has refused to engage in any further discussions on the matter," he wrote the judge. "This is not in good faith."

The actual plot to topple the Columbus statue in the dead of night was outlined in a June 14th conference call in an emergency hearing before Common Pleas Court Judge Marlene Lachman.

Fran Kane, the business agent for Iron Workers Local 405, told the judge that he got a tip from an anonymous city employee that the 20-foot tall marble Columbus statue that weighs several tons was "going to be taken down by a non-union rigging outfit" some time between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. the next morning.

"If they show on site, I plan to put a picket line up," Kane told the judge.

Kane told the judge that two years earlier, his union had offered to take down the Rizzo statue for free, but "all our advances were ignored by the city."

Then, city workers took down the Rizzo statue in the middle of the night, and they botched the job by throwing a halter over the statue, and not doing anything to protect the nine-foot-high 2,000-pound statue from being damaged when they dropped it.

Charles Mirachi, president of the Friends of Marconi Plaza, told the judge that he believed the mayor was out to get Columbus.

"We believe, based on his pattern or his actual actions with regards to the Rizzo statue, that he [Kenney] is going to apply the same type of policy in removing the Columbus statue," Mirachi said.

With another emergency declaration, Mirachi said, he believed Kenney "will use the same type of procedural decision making to remove the [Columbus] statue here and bypass all the requirements of the Fairmount Park Commission, as well as the Art Commission."

So our would-be dictator of a mayor got a much-needed dressing-down in court. But don't expect The Philadelphia Inquirer to ever tell you about it. 

Because they've got the mayor's back.

And the D.A.'s.

And Joe Biden's. 

And every other Democrat you can think of.

1 comment

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