Pueblo voters will not be asked to decide the future of the city's controversial monument honoring Christopher Columbus. On Monday night Pueblo’s city council voted unanimously to continue mediation between supporters and opponents of the statue, rather than put the question of whether it should remain in its current location on the November ballot.
The bronze-topped memorial in the center of town is defended by Italian Americans in the city as a memorial to their heritage, while some Latinos, Native Americans and others criticize it as a reminder of his role in the violent enslavement of their ancestors. More recently, it has been the site of frequent protests and demonstrations over colonialism, police violence and racism since the killing of George Floyd in May.
The city hired a mediator in early August to try to find agreement over what to do with the statue. When they reached an impasse recently, the idea was floated to instead let voters weigh in.
Some opponents of the statue argued that leaving the decision to voters would only escalate tensions, while others said it would be wrong to put a question on the legacy of racism to a vote.
“All of those who defend this statue in any way, shape or form are upholding white supremacy and settler colonialism as a value of this community with your continued actions and inaction. You are upholding genocide of native people as honorable, week after week as protestors gather to say no,” said Theresa M. Trujillo, the lead negotiator representing the indigenous community.
She said groups will pause statue-related protests if the city covers it, or replaces it.
The head of Pueblo’s city council, Dennis Flores, said he’s working with the mediator in the hope of getting all sides, including members of the Italian community, to agree to expand the area around the statue into an outdoor museum. Flores' idea is to give the land to the neighboring Rawlings Library as part of an outdoor exhibit that would also include statues of Martin Luther King Jr, Emmett Till and a monument to the Indigenous community.
Nick Gradisar, Pueblo’s Democratic mayor, also wanted to avoid a fight at the ballot.
“If the people vote to take it down or keep it up that's not going to solve it. The problem is going to be solved by these interested parties coming to an agreement and saying, this is how we're going to move forward,” said Gradisar, who worried an up or down vote would be divisive.
While the mayor said he thinks most Pueblo residents don’t care what happens to the statue one way or the other, he understands the issue is deeply emotional for some.
“I'm not going to defend Christopher Columbus here tonight,” he said at Monday’s council meeting. “Nor am I going to blame him for all the ills that exist in America.”
Pueblo’s bronze bust was installed in 1905, the same year the national Sons of Italy organization was formed to provide support for new immigrants. A statue of Christopher Columbus in Denver was pulled down in late June, making Pueblo’s the last one standing in the state.