In 2018, the administration announced She Built NYC, an initiative to add more statues of women throughout the city. It’s an admirable cause; of the 150 or so statues in the five boroughs honoring important historical figures, only five of them are women.
So a commission was formed and led by de Blasio’s wife, First Lady Chirlane McCray. Residents were asked to nominate noteworthy female figures to monumentalize, and over 300 suggestions were received. Over 2,000 votes were eventually cast.
The person who received the most votes was St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, or Mother Cabrini as she was known. Mother Cabrini moved to New York City from Italy in 1889, and established nearly 70 schools, hospitals and orphanages throughout the United States, including several in Brooklyn.
Her name can be found all over the borough, including on St. Frances Cabrini Church in Bensonhurst. She was canonized a saint in 1946, and named the patron saint of immigrants in 1950.
Mother Cabrini received 219 votes, more than double the number of votes received by Jane Jacobs, the second-place finisher.
Instead, the commission chose Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, Katherine Walker, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Billie Holiday and Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias as the first seven women to get statues under the initiative.
In case you’re scoring at home, they were the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 19th, 22nd, 24th and 42nd finishers, respectively, in the vote tally.
When it was announced, there was an immediate backlash over the exclusion of the top vote-getter.
A spokesperson for the Office of the First Lady of New York (yes, that’s a thing your tax dollars pay to staff) was quoted in numerous publications stating the nomination process was just to give the commission ideas, and not meant to be a process to decide who would be honored.
But that wasn’t enough to satisfy the Mother Cabrini supporters, as well as several elected officials.
“Why open this up for a public vote and then ignore the results?” Councilman Justin Brannan, who represent Bensonhurst, said in a statement. “I would hate to see a meaningful campaign undermined by a process that tries to appear to value public opinion without ever actually doing so.”
“I am not disputing the women chosen by the panel for this initiative, but I am questioning why ‘She Built NYC’ would hold a public poll and then decide to ignore the voice of the people by not including the woman who finished with the most votes by a large margin,” added State Senator Joseph Addabbo of Queens, who is also the president of the Conference of Italian American Legislators. “It makes little sense to hold a vote and then go against the overwhelming winner of that vote.”
While the legislators were careful not to go beyond criticizing the process, some in the city sensed an anti-Catholic bias, including congregants at her namesake church in south Brooklyn.
So now there is pressure on the commission to reconsider and include a statue of Mother Cabrini in its recommendations. Presumably, the de Blasio administration will dig in its heels and refuse to bow to pressure, meaning its has effectively alienated another subset of the city.
Outside of the real estate developers who give to his presidential campaign, we can’t think of many demographic groups that don’t have some sort of issue with the de Blasio administration.