They knew nothing!
Mayor de Blasio claimed Wednesday that he and New York City Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter weren’t looped into the Department of Education’s decision to scrap Columbus Day as a school holiday and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
That decision, which was announced Tuesday, was amended later that day with the city settling on “Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous People’s Day.”
On Wednesday, de Blasio pleaded ignorance and conceded that while the announcement wasn’t handled well, he supports the end result.
“I think this process wasn’t handled right. I certainly didn’t hear about the change, nor did the chancellor,” he said. “We spoke about it, and we both agree this was not the right way to handle things.”
The issue of what to do with Columbus Day has been simmering in the Big Apple for years. Detractors of the holiday have argued that it should be scrapped because of Columbus’ historic role in subjugating native people, while prominent Italian-Americans have defended it as a source of pride.
But the recent outcome appeared to arrive with a whimper.
De Blasio, who’s Italian-American on his mother’s side, on Wednesday emphasized the importance of compromise, of having a day to honor Italian-Americans as well as natives.
“We have to honor that day as a day to recognize the contributions of all Italian-Americans, so of course the day should not have been changed arbitrarily,” he said. “I think saying it’s a day to celebrate Italian-American heritage is absolutely right and appropriate, and that’s the way to talk about it and to think about it. I think also saying — as has been done in many parts of the country — it’s a day to think about history and honor indigenous people as well — I agree with that too.”
The prior day’s confusion on renaming the school holiday prompted a backlash from some of the city’s Italian-American leaders. On Tuesday, state Sens. Diane Savino and Joe Addabbo called the move “blockheaded” because Columbus Day is a federal holiday.
Gov. Cuomo doubled down on such sentiments Wednesday.
“Let me give you a shocker. You ready for a shocker? I disagree with it. I know you’re taken aback. Cities have certain authority and a city can declare a city holiday. When it comes to appreciating and respecting Indigenous people, I agree 100 percent. They deserve much more than a holiday,” said the governor, who’s been known to disagree with Hizzoner from time to time. “Columbus Day is a day where we celebrate the Italian-American contribution to this state. It’s not either-or. We’re not drawing lines and dividing. You don’t have to exclude Italians to celebrate indigenous people.”
Cuomo added that Columbus Day would remain a state holiday.
“I recognize the Italian-American contribution to this city and state, which is significant and should not be diminished. And I diminish no groups’ contribution to this city,” he added. “I think the other message is destructive.”
De Blasio, who oversees the city Department of Education, took a more forgiving tone and described the ultimate outcome as “a good way forward.”
His initial ignorance of the matter — and that of his school’s chancellor — prompted critics to pounce, though. Political foe Sal Albanese, a former Councilman who ran against de Blasio in 2017 and is now running for an open Staten Island Council seat, railed on Twitter that the decision represented “incompetence or plausible deniability & a flawed outcome that satisfies no one.”
“Welcome to the uninitiated to @BilldeBlasio misrule,” he added.
When questioned directly about why he and Porter did not know about the initial announcement, given the sensitivities around the issue, de Blasio said the Department of Education is “a huge, huge operation” and “in that operation, there’s a lot of different elements.”
“The fact that a calendar naming didn’t come to her attention or my attention, on one hand, doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “We needed to hear about it, and we needed to make sure it was right.”
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